How do you incite a punk revolution? It’s no simple task, but Tarantulas Records has found itself in a very opportune position to do just that. When the Explosion, Boston’s premier punk outfit, signed to a major, the band members took their newfound funds and started Tarantulas, making them part of the pseudo-executives of this quasi-business venture. But the label is more than just another P.O. box sending out seven-inches in exchange for stamps; it’s the friend’s label with a bank account. And they’re using that account to promote some of the freshest and most genuine bands of the moment. Case in point is the Bronx, a Los Angeles four-piece that blends old-style L.A. punk (see Black Flag) with the updated noise capabilities of the new millennium.
Bats!, a three-song EP, is a harbinger of the forthcoming album, slated for release Aug. 26 on the band’s own label, White Drugs Records. Nothing says you’re punk more than putting out your own record; it gives further credit to the oft-debated punk status of any new band that uses searing string tempos and raucous drum thunder. The concern is that it’s not music by drunk and disorderly musicians who would turn over your grandmother’s house for a suitcase of beer and some girly mags, but a proximity deception produced by a studio rat who has the time signatures of every Wire album transcribed into his PalmPilot. Never fear when it comes to the Bronx; the band assures the budding listener that this EP, and the soon-to-come full-length, was recorded “at people’s houses at weird hours of the night on loads of uppers, cigarettes and coffee.”
The music reaches from the unruly to the unrelenting: loud, blaring, and yet oddly melodious. The title track sounds as if the guitars are in a race with the drums, but decide in the end that the race is pointless. They join forces for a climax as Matt Caughthran screams, “Skies are falling/ You paint your pictures/ You can paint a thousand/ Well, it makes no difference.”
Lyrics like these make it easy to see how the Bronx became a quick flagship of Tarantulas — the Explosion’s latest EP is called Sick of Modern Art. The shared disgust for impotent art extends beyond the music and into the lifestyles of these bands, prospective heirs to Sid Vicious’s legacy. Writing from Hollywood Boulevard, the West Coast nexus of vice, the Bronx keeps to the subject matter that punk rock knows best: lowlife living in a land of false promises. For them, life consists of “seeing a person get shot seven times and trying to stop the blood gushing from bullet holes in his neck, a couple overdoses, having no money, not being able to drive anywhere because of warrants, unpaid tickets and no insurance, and basically having Los Angeles kick us in the teeth every day.”
The Bronx feels the burden of the urban martyr, and writes about the alienation in “You Want to See Us Burn,” the second track on the EP; the lyrics are sung so hoarsely you can almost hear Caughthran’s vocal chords shredding. The last track, “Private Affair,” is a cover of Australian punk legends the Saints, and is good to the last second, rounding out this EP at a very punk length of less than eight minutes. The song is a kickback to the simple yet timeless topic of conformity, and the unyielding resistance to such a concept.
While paying homage to your idols by singing their words — “Not everybody wants to be the same” — the next test of punk aptitude will be when the full-length drops. It could be the hardest hitting piece of punk wax this summer, but for my money I’m just hoping it’ll explain how a band from Los Angeles decided to name themselves after a borough of New York. Ironies aside, Tarantulas Records has put forth a buffet of valiant releases for your sampling. Each one is a different flavor but blends distinctly into a taste best sampled by picking up the 11-song compilation disc that came with the first 10,000 copies of Sick of Modern Art, a bargain any broke punk rocker can’t afford to pass up.