One of the first things The So So Glos did during a show at the Metro in Chicago was to call for a mosh pit. It was a pretty ballsy move for an opening band. Most of the audience that could drink was milling about the bar, others were bobbing their heads to the punk rock and not really moving much else. But lo and behold, a space was cleared almost instantaneously, as if singer and bassist Alex Levine opened the pit by simply swirling his arms in the air like a magician. Or Moses.
Biblical references aside, it was a pretty violent and awesome sight. Bodies slammed and danced and swirled and sloshed beer all over everyone. Guitarist Matt Elkin joined Titus Andronicus later on for a few songs, and they returned at the end of the night for a truly spectacular cover of The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” A quick follow on Twitter the next day and the band sent the entire setlist from that show a few days later.
You know who does that? Really nice people.
The Plot Thickens, Cool Kids Get Even Cooler
Levine, his brother Ryan (guitar), and step-brother Zach Staggers (drums) have been together since grade school. Elkin joined in 2007, and the Brooklynites self-released Blowout, the fourth release in six years, on April 23. In 2007 the band opened a D.I.Y. venue in Brooklyn called Market Hotel, which shut down a year later. Soon after, they helped Adam Reich create Shea Stadium (not to be confused with the other Shea Stadium), another D.I.Y. space that keeps archives of its live performances (we had our one-year anniversary show there in March). With Shea starting a label to release compilations of these performances (of which, according to the site, there are upwards of 1,000), Blowout is slated to be an exception to the mission of releasing live shows.
The band had also lived at Shea over the years.
So how is the record being released through Shea Stadium any different than the Glos self-releasing? According to Shea Stadium member Nora Dabdoub, “The label has a distribution company, and it’s different than self releasing in that the band isn’t releasing their own record but releasing it through an outlet they are very involved with on many levels.”
The Album Itself
From the first song “Son Of An American,” it makes total sense that The Glos would tour with Titus Andronicus. Both are very conducive to moshing and talk about American life from the standpoint of disparate youth. They can also pull off the whole dangerous punk look on a black and white tour date poster quite well. Levine sounds a little like the lead singer of Hot Hot Heat, and the quality of his voice really meshes well with the overall sound. “Son of an American” has enough hook and energy to suck the listener in from the start, and it blends seamlessly into “House of Glass,” which carries that same edge. Both are incredible live, but my favorite shifted immediately to the third track when it came up on the record.
In “Diss Town” they move to a more throwback-pop tune complete with chorusing, singable oohs that are completely cut by the apocalypse storyline. When Levine sings about mushroom clouds and shredded cities, screeching that’s not a skyline, it’s a cemetery, the blend of familiar chords and a terrifying future just makes you want to shout and jump and sing along. At the end of the song it’s like you’ve shouted out all of your misery and all you’re left with is the euphoria of endorphins.
With that as the third song (featured on Consequence of Sound), The Glos set an incredibly high bar for the next nine songs. For an album that runs just shy of 40 minutes, the prospect is dazzling. “Lost Weekend” opens up with just a baseline, which is almost always a sign for a good time. As soon as the guitar comes in you’re lost in something that’s more dream-pop than punk, but it’s so catchy that it almost doesn’t matter. When the song slows for the chorus and then picks right back up with Spanish-y, twangy guitars, it opens up the possibility of a crushing live performance (which the band, in fact, mastered).
Things Start To Get Weird
The song transitions eerily, creepily, perfectly into “Xanax,” echoing the sha-la-las and summer haze from “Lost Weekend.” It is after that fifth track, however, when something a little hinky comes through. It’s easy losing one’s self in “Weekend,” but when Levine asks, Could you forget the future? in “Xanax” it doesn’t sound like the The So So Glos. It’s the Cure. “Xanax” and “Lost Weekend” are both really similar in that summer sun kind of way, whereas “Son Of An American” and “House of Glass” are almost pure, tri-state area, capital P-Punk, leaving “Diss Town” to stand in its own little space, feeling a little alienated by its neighbors despite the fact that it is, so far, the best song.
That’s a lot of different sound to reconcile in half a record, and it doesn’t really end up happening. “Blowout” is super ska-punk and it’s rightfully awesome enough to warrant as the album’s namesake, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the record. Yes, the stye of singing and basic rhythm is there, but it’s packed with shouting and heavy riffs that are so jarring. Not in a good way, either. It’s like being Winston in George Orwell’s “1984,” and it’s the scene where he and Julia discover that Big Brother’s been watching them the whole time.
Wait, What Is Going On Right Now?
The songs that follow the album’s first five songs take an unexpected turn. “Wrecking Ball” smooths everything out a little in that it blossoms out of “Blowout” in a nice way and it’s super singable. More importantly it helps the listener kind of hone-in on The So So Glos’ sound, connecting it back to more than one song prior.
“Speakeasy” comes through like a song in every punk show you’ve ever witnessed. It’s the song during which one might get a beer or attempt to flirt with that cute kid you’ve been eyeing in the hallway who has the same vaguely-interested look you do at this song.
But “All Of The Time” is the song that makes you stop paying attention to whatever you’re doing and rush back to the stage. It hooks into you in moments, and a few seconds later, you’re in love. Riddled with swears, the song clocks in as my most played because it has the story and heart and raw emotion that started to drain slowly away after “Diss Town,” with Levine crooning out with the most perfect harmony, Cause everybody wants your body / wrapped up all of the (beat) time. After going perfectly back and forth from spitting out profanity and musicality, the song ends like there should be 60 screaming, sobbing bobbysoxers cheering after the last note.
“Everything Revival” then proceeds to amp up whatever happiness “All of the Time” gave, and the crowd is once again moshing and dancing and screaming and waving their extremities around like they did when the band played almost anything from the first half of the record. It also officially has my endorsement to become the next song endlessly played on every radio station.
Wherein the Author Finally Looses Her Mind
It’s after “Everything” that frustration sets in, though, because “Island Ridin'” should not be on this record. It’s stadium rock on a garage record, Coldplay where there should be THE SO SO GLOS BECAUSE THAT’S WHO I THOUGHT I WAS LISTENING TO. And maybe the band shouldn’t be pigeonholed into only one sound, but when it gets to the point where you started with one band and end up not even a full 40 minutes later with somebody totally different, there is room for valid concern.
The last song, “Dizzy,” starts out with a harmonica. A harmonica! And spelling! “U-N-I-T-Y” like fucking Fergie or something. It’s the Smith Westerns; it’s everything but The Glos and I just don’t understand why, but it seems slightly worse because it’s actually a good song. Layered, beautiful. Despite being solid summer music, it’s not the band that we started with. Where’s the punk? The emotion, the heart, the raw energy that was there in the first seven songs?
So the fatal flaw in the record isn’t that it’s bad music by any standard–it’s that The Glos don’t seem to have a cohesive idea. They jump from sound to sound as if the record should be broken up into seven double-sided singles instead of one single unit. The sheer talent really shines in their versatility, but those looking for a punk rock record won’t find one. Not entirely, at least.
That being said, you should watch them cover the Beastie Boys any and every day of the week.