I’m just going to come out and say it: München-based skate thrashers Straightline have released possibly 2017’s most enjoyable punk album.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Right now, you’re raising your fist and, seriously befuddled, shouting, “Jake, how the hell can you say that when we’re barely two months into the year?”
Well, anonymous reader, allow me to explain.
For starters, it isn’t uncommon for any release to have at least a few throw away songs. We’ve all heard them. Dust off your stereo, pop in any classic or contemporary rock album by whichever band you choose, and you will likely find that while you may even enjoy the majority of tracks, there are a significant few that you inevitably skip over. These “filler” songs exist to hypothetically throw a few rough stones in that, one hopes, will pad the emptiness around more carefully polished gems so the record can reach full length status. As such, they aren’t crafted with much love, and it shows. They just waste space, eat time, leave fans wondering why said band didn’t put out an EP instead.
This is where Straightline’s Vanishing Values shines first. It hasn’t a poor track.
You read that correctly.
Not. A. Single. One.
Sure, some are stronger than others. Standouts include “Pleonexia,” “Unfinished Story,” the joyfully anthemic “Off We Go,” or acoustic “Take Your Time.” But that said, none of them are in any way weak. The composition is top notch without being overly artsy or complex. The mix is tightly constructed, eschewing both the home brewed lo-fi recording techniques and hyper-polished sound of most mainstream rock, instead choosing to sit somewhere in the middle. Not underproduced, not overproduced. Everything sounds clean and balanced, something I have not heard since the Butch Vig heyday of the 1990s.
At a good dozen songs in length, the album also still maintains enough variety to never grow stale midway while not battering listeners with one too many curve balls. All songs flow nicely into one another without sounding the same. In all honesty, it’s just pure rambunctious fun from start to finish.
And speaking of composition, the music itself is vastly different from the breeds of pop punk, emo, and hardcore made popular in the early 2000s. Instead what we get is reminiscent of ‘90s alternative punk such as The Offspring and later Bad Religion, merged with the thrashy riffs and beats that hark back to DRI’s early releases. Though combining these older styles is not necessarily the same as creating something fresh, it is a welcome change of pace for a genre which now often feels stale and repetitive. And regardless of the album’s innovativeness, the end result just makes you smile, makes your body want to move.
Lastly, it goes without saying that punk music is steeped in radical politics. From The Clash and Sex Pistols, to Green Day, to Leftover Crack, it is nearly impossible to divorce punk music from antifascist discourse. Though often considered apolitical, even godfathers the Ramones were not averse to commenting passionately on Reagan-era corruption. Now, in our new era of deep political uncertainty, bands are again rising to the challenge of rallying the people with poetic demands for freedom.
Straightline does this very well. The record carries the themes of frustration and distrust for today’s political landscape, like currents might carry an injured ship lost at sea. Though their penchant for metaphor is not quite on par with contemporary punk poets such as Eric Peterson (rest in peace, comrade; you are missed), their social eye is no less deft. Nonetheless, the themes never feel forced. They never feel beaten over your head. Instead they work with the music to energize listeners who may be wallowing in a negative state resulting from today’s frightening climate.
It is certainly no cure for social unease, nor does it try to be. It is more Tylenol for the soul, offering just enough assistance to get you going again.
The album drops February 10, 2017 via Bird Attack Records.
Pre-order copies and listen to samples here.