Thursday, August 13, 2015

Worriers, Imaginary Life, 2015

Album Review

Shellshag have this web series called "Shellshonic Shag-O-Vision" that you should really check out. The shorts consist of Shellshag and a guest covering a couple of songs together against the wild backdrop and green screen of the big Shag-O-Vision.

The fifth episode of the second season featured Lauren Denitzio of Worriers. It opened with Shell and Lauren doing a cover of Billy Bragg's "Little Time Bomb." It couldn't have been more perfect. As a young, aspiring lefty, I voraciously consumed Billy Bragg's entire discography. But I liked the rock music back then, too. So Bragg's approach of wrapping his politically charged songs (of which "Little Time Bomb" really isn't one) in approachable and singable folk punk appealed to me on a purely aesthetic level as well.

That's what I get from Worriers on Imaginary Life. There are songs dealing with serious topics like challenging the construct of the gender binary and calling out the police, but the album is also a really good punk rock record. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! produced, and her ear for what makes a great pop punk song comes through on every track.

The album opens with the short "Jinx." Denitzio sings about how lucky she is to be making her way through life doing what she loves, sticking to her ideals. "'Cause today I have all I ever wanted." As the album progresses, we see glimpses, I think, of the way her life could be if she were to lose that.

"Plans" introduces a theme that pops up a couple of times on Imaginary Life: doing or sticking with something because it's what you're supposed to do, because it's what society expects. In this case, that's staying in a toxic relationship -- "In public, party. In private, hell" and "You love me like a sibling that you hate a little bit." -- because "We've got plans." The song also introduces the great lead guitar work from Rachel Rubino and John McLean that kept catching my attention throughout the record.

"Life During Peacetime" is a little less pop-punky, a little more Billy Bragg-y maybe, than "Plans." Again, though, it deals with the compromises and sacrifices we make in the name of a stable, "normal" life: "So I will build this house, and never leave" or "And you try to pretend when you teach your kids to do what they love only on nights and weekends."

"Glutton for Distance" is appropriately big and expansive -- those guitars again plus rolling rhythms from Mikey Erg (drums) and Audrey Zee Whitesides (bass). Denitzio sings of the importance of having someone to come home to and the ultimate desire to experience the world together.

Things get more political on "Yes All Cops," a rocker that dismisses the "few bad apples" theory of police abuses and calls us all out for our silence. Single "They / Them Theirs" is a pop-punk anthem that deconstructs the social construct of gender: "You are floating between two ends that don't matter."

Bouncing pop-punk guitars characterize "Most Space," an effective two-minute critique of acquisitiveness for its own sake. "Chasing" closes things out on a personal note (Billy always threw a few of those in there, too. See "Little Time Bomb."). Denitzio sings of that moment -- just an instant -- when it feels like the object of your unrequited love actually wants you. Then it's gone.

If I were to list out for you the topics that Imaginary Life confronts: gender, police brutality, middle class apathy, voracious accumulation, you may say, "That all seems so heavy." You'd be wrong. Denitzio and Worriers make their points, sure. Some of the songs are unflinching in their criticisms. But these are great punk rock songs. The kind of songs that will have entire audiences jumping and singing along. Screaming out loud, in unison, messages that deserve to be heard.

Imaginary Life is out now on Don Giovanni Records, and you can catch Worriers live at Asbury Lanes on 8/13 -- JUST A FEW HOURS FROM THE TIME OF THIS WRITING! -- when they play with Cayetana, Chumped, Thin Lips, and ROMP. See you there.

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