The thing about Cokefloat!, the debut album from Glasgow garage-poppers PAWS, is that it contains no guile. No guile, and very little irony. The lyrics are declarative sentences, and the sentiments they declare are so pure and simple in intent that it’s easy to believe the band is trying to fool you. “She wasn’t just my mother/She was my friend/A good friend,” sings lead singer Phillip Taylor on opening track “Catherine 1956,” a cheery punk elegy with a Bruce Springsteen ideology: “Do something for me and get out of this town/’Cause there’s nothing for you here.”
PAWS’ sound, raw and spontaneous when live, is a difficult one to capture on record. The high voltage of the bratty “Bloodline” or the scream-sung “Winners Don’t Bleed” could have ended up sounding as canned and squishy as Spam, but thanks to the production of Test Icicles alum Rory Attwell, the tracks seem unpredictable even after multiple listens. The garage-pop genre has its unfortunate sound-a-likes—“Bloodline” could be a track that Wavves left off King Of The Beach—but Cokefloat! mixes straight punk sneering with more unexpected guitar sounds. In some ways, it’s a solid 2012 answer to Dookie or Take Off Your Pants And Jacket: sneakily mature ideas hiding behind juvenile music, and also the opposite.
Take “Pony,” a song that excoriates a trust fund kid. Guitars climb from mellow to frenzied and back again. Taylor’s insinuations are gentle—“Hey there little silly girl/Please don’t cry so loud/Mother keeps you sweet/What is there to cry about?”—and then abruptly not: “Mom and dad still pay your rent/Don’t fuck me around.” Like blink-182 or Green Day, PAWS prefer their feelings to be clearly expressed and loudly sung. Like pop-punkers of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, PAWS enjoy swearing in their songs. Unlike their predecessors, they use the word fuck to hurt feelings, not to shock. Like on “Get Bent”: “Fuck you, I don’t need you anyway,” sings Taylor before wondering how he can depend on someone who doesn’t know his favorite food or animal. One moment, the band reaches peak brutality; the next, they curl into themselves, hiding under their guitar sludge and beating the shit out of their drums to compensate for their sensitivity.
Multiple songs detail the struggle to stay sober and be normal: “I try real hard to stay clean” is the theme of “Miss American Bookworm”; standout “Sore Tummy” adds some lady backup vocals from Alice Costelloe for the most positive song about a comedown ever: “My belly sure does hurt me/But it’s okay ‘cause I feel damn alive.” These songs don’t posit pleasure and pain or joy and despair as opposites. Instead, they are companions, bleeding into one another until the guitars aren’t exactly angry or paranoid or triumphant, and Taylor’s voice isn’t exactly a yelp or a battle cry or a cry for help. Cokefloat! is a complicated punk album, all id and very little superego. It’s not juvenile so much as it is childlike, and what makes it childlike makes it heartbreaking.