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I have to say it, I absolutely love the punk music I’m hearing nowadays. When I was growing up in the early nineties, it seemed like every ‘punk’ band was playing the same warmed over version of what everyone thought punk should sound like (that wasn’t all that interesting to begin with). If they were really on the cutting edge, they would add a trumpet and we called it ‘ska’. It had become worse than formula. It had become lazy formula. This was all truly unfortunate, because it completely disregarded the magic that early punk encapsulated. We had all been told that punk was about playing badly with a lot of volume. That was always a load of horseshit.
Maybe ‘bad and loud’ was the mantra of The Ramones and Sex Pistols, but punk was a lot more than that in the late-seventies. It was really about the complete deconstruction of genre. It’s amazing to go back and realize, that over the course a just a few years, you heard the emergence of Talking Heads, Split Enz, Blondie, The Only Ones, The Feelies, X-Ray Spex, The Slits, The dB’s, the Dead Kennedys, The Buzzcocks, The Dickies, Mink Deville, The Stranglers, The Raincoats, The Teardrop Explodes, The Adverts, Elvis Costello, Television, The Modern Lovers, Eddie & The Hotrods, The Fall, Wreckless Eric, The Cramps, The Dictators and The Damned. There was a lot more going on there than ‘loud and bad’. It wasn’t only happening in London or New York. It wasn’t just about leather jackets and giant safety pins. It was a watershed change in paradigm.
Just a few years after that explosion, we had to create the genre ‘Post-Punk’ for bands that would have just been considered ‘punk’, if they had only released their debut before the formula had been etched in stone. I’ve always taken issue with that genre. To me, bands like Gang of Four or Joy Division weren’t just a thing that happened after punk, but a defining part of it; tearing down the old rules about music and making something completely new. THAT is punk rock, not your pink fucking highlights and Herman Munster boots.
So, when I say that I’m in love with modern punk music, it is precisely because it goes back to that original free-for-all platform and mines the references that had been long forgotten by time. Over the last few years, bands like Parquet Courts, King Tuff, Nude Beach, and FIDLAR have revived that energy and spirit in ways I never got to hear growing up and it has been glorious. With their new self-released debut, Vs. Galore, Vienna’s Chick Quest have joined that group and added another ‘album of the year’ candidate to top of the pile.
The original name for the band was Lee Van Cleef, named after the American actor made famous by starring in classic western films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Ryan White, an American expat living in Vienna, Austria, had the idea of taking “Spaghetti Western” influences and mixing it with his own Indie Rock-styled songwriting for a couple of years. In mid January of 2014, while listening to The Go! Team’s debut album in a bar, a drunken conversation with his friend, Iris Rauh, convinced her to buy an electronic drum set and learn to play the drums from scratch so together they could create dance parties for their friends in Vienna.
Unlike most drunken ‘great ideas’, this one stuck, and Rauh bought her electronic drum set the very next day. White began to focus on writing “straightforward” songs based on chopped up snippets of “Spaghetti Western” chord progressions and simple, repetitive drum beats. In order to alleviate himself from more complicated guitar work so he could focus on vocals and performance.
While the band seem to play up the western tinge of the music (as well as that dreaded ‘post-punk’ term), I don’t hear Vs. Galore as anything other than straight up punk rock with a trumpet and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You’ll hear a lot of elements of the greats on this record. You have the front-of-the-mix, dancing Gang of Four bassline on “Girl on Fire”. You have the twisted Jello Biafra-esque vocal on my personal favorite “I’m Tired of Pretty Girls”. There is the menacing Cramps-esque lead guitar on “Monkey No Dance For No One”. All throughout, you might hear flourishes of Tom Verlaine‘s idiosyncratic vocal delivery or even a jumping beat that would have fit right at home on any Specials record. Clearly, Ryan White has really good taste and he knows exactly how to display it, all the while crafting a sound that is more akin to a carnival soundtrack for the apocalypse than some hero riding off in the sunset.
Though I seriously doubt Vs. Galore will give Chick Quest the critical attention already afforded to groups like Parquet Courts or FIDLAR, it doesn’t mean their music is any less notable or flat out fun. I challenge anyone with a heartbeat to listen to this LP without tapping their foot at least once. This is the kind of early summer party record that serves to prove punk is about so much more than ‘bad and loud’. These tracks aren’t just off-the-cuff noise. Instead, these are clearly arranged to the note without sacrificing any of the vitality that is so key to making great rock music. You can give it whatever name you like. Nomenclature is nothing more than the stock and trade for dicks like me to have something to argue about. Chick Quest tears all of the bullshit down and reconstructs their own set of rules with only one goal in mind; dance motherfucker.
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