Hello friends, welcome to The Listening Booth where I ramble about what I’ve been putting into my ears this week. Truthfully, this might be one of the more rambling examples of the form as I’m not sure I managed to get any of my points across. I tried, though, so give me some credit. Fingers crossed you get something out of it, and at the very least you can enjoy the music.
Over the last year or two, my taste in music has changed dramatically. If you’d asked me what I listened to before that change, the answer would have been metal. That wasn’t strictly true, plenty of other things entered my ears, but metal (and its various off-shoots) was what I went back to time after time. And yet, nowadays, new metal albums often feel like a bit of a chore. Outside of the very best that genre has to offer, I can no longer be arsed. Why? Because albums like Deals, Deals, Deals! have stolen my heart.
And I’m not suggesting you can’t listen to metal and Ramona at the same time because that would be silly. I’m just at a stage where I’d much rather listen to Ramona and their catchy fast-paced punk songs. This album comes in at 27 minutes, and it is 27 minutes without an inch of fat. It doesn’t matter that a lot of the songs dive into themes that have been explored a million different times by a million different bands because on ‘Hater’s Ball Parade’ and ‘Is This Emo?’ they do it better. Plus, it’s not all break-ups and broken hearts, ‘Not Your Token’ is about exactly what you’d expect it to be about while ‘Are We Having Fun Yet?’ asks that simple question of ‘what the fucks the point in only being okay?’ and makes so much sense as it does so.
A whole lot of which is down to the delivery. Abby Vigderman and Diego Medrano trade off on vocals, and you’d be hard pressed to split their performances. Whether they need to be snotty, resigned, melancholic or joyous, it is pitched perfectly, and when combined with some genuinely wonderful hooks, it makes it impossible to forget these songs even after the first listen. You can have all the right words, but if the way they are said is off, they quickly become meaningless. Thankfully, that’s not something you have to worry about here.
As I’ve tried to figure out exactly what my new taste in music is, I’ve come to the conclusion that I like sad songs which sound happy and that’s what Ramona do. You could put Deals, Deals, Deals! on and bounce around the living room, shouting the catchy choruses and letting the emotion pass you over. However, there is more to it than that, and these aren’t meaningless shout-alongs. It’s a phrase I use a lot, but it’s about life and, ultimately, all the best music is. They feel real and no matter where your head is at (although, apparently, particularly where my head is) that makes it relatable. You can turn it on and for a while feel a little less alone. Who doesn’t want that?
A lot of what I said about Ramona can be repeated retooled for Fresh. Withdraw is punk music rooted in reality, with the title track opening things up with lines about nightmares of people kicking down bedroom doors. They are raw and honest lyrics set to a woozy musical canvas that almost allows that vulnerability to pass you by until you click in and engage with what is being said. Once there, though, this album takes on a whole new perspective.
Not that you should go into Withdraw expecting to deal with trauma at every turn. That rooting in the day to day brings with it the ups and the downs, the high fiving people from van windows on ‘Nervous Energy’ which bristles like its namesake, ready to take off at any second. But also the melancholy of waking up in the middle of the night with tears in your eyes in ‘New Girl’. It’s happy, and it’s sad, and it’s everything else in between which is hard not to relate with because that pretty much covers it.
And they’re good songs. That’s the key to this whole thing. There are moments that are close to pure musical joy, the prime example being when ‘Punisher’ suddenly leaps into ‘Summer Lovin’ the sheer audacity of which made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it. It feels like Fresh have written Withdraw while going about their life, scribbling notes free form about their experiences and then just happening to have the ability to attach that to music that is catchy, uplifting and everything else you want it to be. How can that not sound good to you?
Twenty-eight years. That’s how long Shonen Knife have been on the go. During that time they’ve made fans of people like Kurt Cobain and released twenty-two studio albums. Twenty-two studio albums of which I have listened to exactly one, Sweet Candy Power.
And there is a lot about that Sweet Candy Power that I should dislike. The track listing reads like a Disney pop band formed by eight-year-olds, with titles such as ‘Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches’. The cover, meanwhile, seems to have been ripped straight from a child’s colouring book, a candy-coated wonderland of bright pinks and purples presumably packed with enough sugar to send a toddler to the moon and back. It all looks like the kind of album made for people that aren’t me.
Yet, I fucking love this. It is what happens when The Beach Boys and The Ramones are fused and placed into the bodies of some Japanese women to sing simple songs that I am never getting out of my head. If you aren’t shouting along with every word by the end of your first listen, then you weren’t paying attention because these songs should have a fucking health warning. That sugar I mentioned has got into the blood system, and while my teeth are rotting and my body is screaming in pain, I am having a lovely old time.
Honestly, I doubt I need every one of those Shonen Knife albums. If they all sound like this, I can probably get by on one or two. However, that doesn’t stop me looking forward to finding out because this was a joy to listen to. It’s simple and almost childish, but it’s so simple that it’s almost got to be subversive in some way. What way? Fucked if I know, but I bet someone can tell you. I don’t want to think about it too much, I’m too busy bopping along to ‘Party’. As they say, ‘let’s dance, let’s sing, let’s have a good time’, I’m on board.
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