Thursday, September 14, 2017

Album Review: Downtown Boys - Cost of Living

Downtown Boys
Cost of Living
**** out of *****

With 2015's Full Communism Providence, RI's six piece punk rockers gained national attention wailing to the forefront with pro-minority/underdog lyrics, a punk vibe and bellowing brass that made them stand out from the pack. If you are unfamiliar with the band and their mission, their words say it best:
The United States’ myriad inequalities, hatreds and phobias are painfully evident in 2017, offering proof that the age-old dichotomy of “political bands” versus “apolitical bands” simply doesn’t exist. Either you are comfortable and unfazed by the current reigning power structures, or you use your music as a vehicle for the dismantling of oppression and the creation of something better. No matter what your songs are about, you are choosing a side.

The position of Providence, RI’s Downtown Boys has been clear since they started storming through basements and DIY spaces with their radically-minded rock music: they are here to topple the white-cis-het hegemony and draft a new history.

Now they arrive more focused (in every way) for their follow up Cost of Living. With a President and administration to rail against and a clear jump up in production to Sub Pop (from Don Giovanni) the group plans a more calculated approach and on most fronts they succeed in expanding their sound, sharping their chops and bringing more ears into the tent.

Immediately the production of Guy Picciotto stands out, the band has been cleaned up and put on the path of succeeding. From Mary Regalado’s bass (a constant source of joy) bounce on the opening defiant "A Wall" the band is rich and alive, warm in the speakers aggressive when it needs to be but toned down when the music needs to just motor and not wail; this pairing of producer and band is a winner.

Most listeners first reaction however will be to front woman Victoria Ruiz who sings in Spanish and English. As on every other release she remains raw and defiant, repeating things over and over and blasting through the polished production to attack the listener where they sit. Her attack is admirable but as on Full Communism her lyrics and shouts can become one-note, repetitive and ultimately diluted of their power as on "Promissory Note" "Clara Rancia" which are both  musically full throttle motoring but never escape the defiant rage of the front woman. Punk calls for sing-along's and memorable stanzas, but the best transcends and makes connections, not just screams against.

Also noticeable toned down this go around is the out and out saxophone skronk's that so effectually brought to life Full Communism. Here the brass is pushed to more of supporting role, but the fury is still present with tracks like the blistering "Because You" or "Tonta". Tracks like "Violent Complicity" "Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)" and "Lips That Bite" are more well rounded, pulling all of what the band does well at the this point and moves it forward with flashes of groove, electro flourishes and textural nuances.

Cost of Living is a complete record however the Downtown Boys still feel like a work-in-progress but that is fine as they work through sounds, political agendas, feelings and musical styles. Hopefully sticking with Sub-Pop and Picciotto will be in their future as they are cracking open their style more and more with each release.
Support the band, buy the album, stream it below or on bandcamp, and peep some video:

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