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Posted on August 28th, 2015 (2:00 pm) by Michael Negron

People often talk about the "energy" in music. Part of it's volume, part of it's tempo, but there's also something a bit indescribable to it. You can look at Refused as a sad case-in-point; The Shape of Punk to Come and Freedom have much of the same elements, despite the latter being a neutered version of the former. With punk in particular, there's a clear divide between the ferocious and the tame, even if it's not immediately decipherable. Some punk schools of thought, like that of Shape-era Refused, argue for more complexity to supplement sound, while perhaps the more conventional counterargument is to strip it down to something "raw." Oakland "angry ska band" The Atom Age give us a third option with Hot Shame: more organ.

You can probably tell where this is going by that decision alone; Hot Shame is a concoction of punk heresies, unabashedly influenced by more than half a century of rock yet with an unapologetically modern sound. Singer and guitarist Ryan Perras made an offhanded comment that while The Atom Age have this "crazed energy," they might not be as true to its garage roots considering that they aren't "super lo-fi." But "trueness" to any kind of tradition is owed more in that energy than the logistics of recording; it's an idea that goes back to Refused, and even before them: sometimes the only way to be truly revolutionary is to go against counterculture convention. That it's done so seamlessly and even unintentionally is only more to the band's credit.

In sheer sonic terms, the album doesn't ease in to its off-kilter brand of mayhem. "It's A Mess" starts with a quick thrust forward, shoving its odd mix of grit and remarkably catchy melodies at you straightaway. From there, it's a 23-minute rush to the finish, through the mesmerizing verses of "Barracuda" and the blisteringly breakneck "Ms. Death Texas" to the homage-laden "Wasteoid." But it's not just the speed or the length; the sonic density The Atom Age pack in is enveloping, due no doubt to their affinity for horns, and matched well with a willingness to partake in simplicity that verges at points on minimalist. The interplay of cacophonous and swelling noise is what defines their energy, the more lax moments building intensity for the inevitable huge chorus or hook – though, let's be honest, there aren't any moments where the album is actually quiet, and there's no reason for it to be.

Perras claimed that what sets Hot Shame apart is its energy, and for the most part that's true. There's enough spirit here to put veterans and newbies alike to shame, but it's the lackadaisical irreverence of all customs – conventional, punk, garage, or otherwise – that really makes it something remarkable. This isn't the nonchalant innovation of Polvo or Pavement - it's an exuberant outward aggression that tries, but doesn't try too hard. Maybe they just make it look easy.

Track List:

  1. It's A Mess
  2. Hot Shame
  3. Barracuda
  4. Ms. Death Texas
  5. Do It Now
  6. Negative Mind
  7. Hear Them Scream
  8. Wild Worry
  9. Too Much Fun
  10. Wasteoid
The Atom Age: Hot Shame
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

75 / 100
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