Hello friends, even with Best Of The Super Juniors taking up a shitload of my time, I still had room for The Listening Booth to saunter into the schedule. In the past week I’ve been having a fucking awesome time with Employed To Serve, Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties and PKEW PKEW PKEW all of whom I am about to incomprehensibly ramble about. Strap yourself in and enjoy. Or don’t. I won’t be angry. Well, maybe a little.
It’s not impossible to fall in love with a band that was before your time. Kurt Cobain died when I was two years old, but Nirvana changed the way I look at music. However, there is a connection that comes from living through a band’s entire career, from discovering their debut album to seeing them rise through the ranks and become one of the best. It’s a journey that Employed To Serve are in the midst in and having had my eye on them from the start (although, sadly, the website for which I reviewed Greyer Than You Remember no longer exists meaning my cuttingly insightful words are lost to history) you can’t help but be enthralled by the journey.
And if there is any justice in the world, it is a journey that is about to slip into a higher gear. For Eternal Forward Motion, their first release on Spinefarm Records is everything that Employed To Serve has done in the past, but better. While they are still a raw stripped-down beast of a band, it’s now tighter, groovier and enhanced by a clear step forward in the song-writing. With The Warmth Of A Dying Sun having pointed them towards a less erratic but perhaps even heavier path they are now gleefully walking it, smashing aside anything that stands in their way.
Employed To Serve weren’t bad songwriters before this album either. There is very little that they have ever fallen short at. However, every part of their arsenal is just that bit better than it used to be. On tracks like ‘Harsh Truth’ lead singer Justine Jones still sounds like she’s ripping her throat out in an attempt to get her hands around yours, but there is now an anthemic quality to those vocals. Every word is crystal clear, and at the start of the song, it’s just her and the drums, roaring you into the track proper. If that doesn’t turn into a live favourite, I will, well, I probably won’t do anything, but I’ll be very sad.
Elsewhere, you have the bouncy groove on the riffs of the title track, the all-out assault of ‘Dull Ache Behind My Eyes’ (which is closer in sound to their debut album) and the more expansive feeling of closer ‘Bare Bones On A Blue Sky’. It’s not an album that ever really slows down, attacking you on every song, but it is varied. The only guarantee you have is that all of them are going to fucking rip your head off. I was at their album launch show in Glasgow where songs like ‘Force Fed’ and ‘Owed Zero’ sounded fucking massive. There were people literally hanging from the ceiling (much to the annoyance of the venue staff) as the crowd exploded to these future classics.
All of which adds up to an album that fucking slays. It’s heavy music at its best as it beats the shit out of you while simultaneously making you want to scream with joy. Anyone who has been paying attention should already know that Employed To Serve are something special. Eternal Forward Motion should be the moment where those with their head in the sand find out too.
Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties is the side-project of Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell of The Wonder Years fame. On these albums, Campbell slides into the persona of Aaron West a man who on their debut had his life ripped apart when his wife left him. Through that album and a follow-up EP, he faced the grief of that separation, running away from his home in New York, contemplating suicide and ultimately ending up back where he started, ready to start a new chapter.
It’s that chapter which Routine Maintenance tells. It finds Aaron recovering, smiling for the first time, but still suffering. Then, over the next thirty minutes, Campbell tells his story. His attempts to find a new spot in the world, of running away once more and finding something approaching happiness only to be jolted back to Earth and confronted with responsibilities that he didn’t have before. It’s the rare concept album that doesn’t deal with intergalactic battles or dance around incomprehensible riddles. Instead, it tells the story of life. Its ups and its down, giving as much time to Aaron’s job painting houses as it does to grand ideas about God. Routine Maintenance is storytelling, and it’s beautiful.
All of which is before you even touch on the music itself. With the story starting in New Jersey, there is a strong Springsteen element running through these songs while Soupy’s voice is always going to bring The Wonder Years to mind. There are bits of folk and country in there, all wrapped up in a big bow of Americana. It’s the sound of long drives down straights roads as the sun sets in the horizon. I’m sure you could write this music if you weren’t American, but it wouldn’t sound the same. While those Yanks do a lot of things wrong, they do this very very right.
And if you haven’t guessed, I fell a bit in love with it over the last week. I didn’t even know this side project existed until this album came out, but now I’ve gone back and listened to it all, following Aaron’s journey from the beginning. In many ways, it is simple music, dealing with simple themes, but that’s not an insult. There is a purity to it. It feels alive and real, more relatable than anything I have listened to in a long, long time. I don’t know if that’s just me, I do have a soft spot for this stuff, but there is magic in Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, and that’s got to be worth at least checking out?
If you’re lucky enough to be living in a part of the world that has weather similar to what has been going down in Edinburgh for the last week then rejoice, for summer is here and that means it’s time to pull out all those albums that have been begging for sunny days. I’m pretty sure since I started writing these things that I’ve named about a band a week that is perfect for this weather, but one I’ve been holding in reserve is PKEW PKEW PKEW (who shall henceforth be known as PKEW) and their second album Optimal Lifestyles.
For this album loves the sun, and I’m going to go out a limb and say the sun loves it. I haven’t personally consulted with it, but fuck it; I’m going to speak for the big orange bastard. It’s a massive fan. I’m also going to stop talking about the sun now and go back to Optimal Lifestyles. This is an album packed with two to three-minute punk songs that love life and big sing-along choruses. Sure, it touches on a few themes about growing up and how maybe partying all the time isn’t that sustainable, but it never gets bogged down in them. It’s still having a good time even as it reflects that it should really be ‘shred until your dead or until you break your wrist again’.
And even when it does get serious, it doesn’t stop being fun. ‘Passed Out’ is packed with the apathy of a generation that has been fucked over by those in charge. It’s a world where you work to make the money that allows you to buy beer which you drink until you pass out. That might not sound like the happiest song, but you’ll be bouncing along singing every word. PKEW seem to be caught in a situation where part of them realises it’s time to grow up, but at the same time, they acknowledge on songs like ‘Adult Party’ that they have no real wish to do so. It’s a feeling that I find very relatable.
Bands that write this kind of music have a tendency to mature. At some point, it becomes a bit weird to see a fifty-year-old man singing about going to prom and getting drunk. However, that process doesn’t have to be morose. Not every punk band needs to go from making dick jokes to ‘Adam’s Song’. It’s possible to mature and still embrace that sense of fun. PKEW PKEW PKEW write punk songs that are made for a good time and sometimes stray into serious territory, but never forget how to rock out. If I could tattoo a music genre into my skin, it would probably be that one.
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