Forming in Minnesota when they were about fourteen, the members of the Plastic Constellations — Jeff Allen, Aaron Mader, Matt Scharenbroich, and Jordan Roske — have come a long way over eight years and only two releases. Now all of twenty-two, the four put together a solid and varied indie rock album in their sophomore full-length, Mazatlan. But varied isn’t always good. When these songs work, they’re kick-ass punk anthems; when they don’t, they’re damn-near cringe-worthy.
“We Came to Play” opens the record with all four chanting. It’s pretty damn funny, considering this is a group of raucous young indie-punk-rockers, which we could assume from the album’s cover. I can imagine them opening their shows with “We Came to Play,” arms around each other’s shoulders, clutching their newly discovered favorite lagers. The song’s title is a giveaway, and they make themselves pretty clear from the get-go with their crunching riffs and an anthem chorus: “We wrote this/ We laced up our shoes/ We came to play/ It’s what we do.” Right: They have the subtlety of a coked-up Fred Durst, but at least they can rock.
On “Evil Groove,” Allen introduces the album’s ultimate downfall: white-boy rapping*. His horrid attempt at lacing lyrics atop trickling guitar chords in no way fits with the band’s general aesthetic. The song saves itself by abandoning Allen’s musings, instead blaring on with a dueling guitar finale. But this blight keeps creeping up. Allen introduces the album’s strongest track, “Davico,” with this lyrical garbage, which is left behind for one of the best punk choruses since Jawbreaker’s “Accident Prone.” I just hope the Plastic Constellations leave out the rap-rock entirely on their next album.
Given the members’ ages and sparse output, there’s a great hope for the Plastic Constellations. Their energy and ambition is there, and they can shred the hell out of their guitars without becoming predictable. And it’s encouraging they’ve been playing shows with the Dismemberment Plan and Low throughout their career. Their influences are in the right places, but they need to realize that just because they’re young, doesn’t mean they have to rap-rock.
*CORRECTION (02.17.05): Aaron Mader, the band’s other guitarist, is credited with these vocal tracks.