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Monday, January 21, 2013

Album Review: Psychopunch - Smakk Valley

Psychopunch’s Smakk Valley may sound venemous and slightly seedy, but it’s actually all rolling punk with pop sensibilities. A set of driven tracks, coated in colour and bolstered with a strong sense of fun. An amalgamation of Green Day, The Wildhearts, The Ramones and Bowling For Soup, it comes as no surprise to me that these Swedish stalwarts have remained below my radar despite the nine other albums they’ve churned out between 1999 and 2010. Sounding a little old hat now, much of what they do sticks firmly to the power-pop basics of get in fast, raise the roof, and get out.

With 14 tracks of fast rhythms, verse-chorus-verse structure, predictably simple lyrics and straight-up 4/4 beats, what you see is what you get. Vocally, frontman / guitarist JM certainly gets plenty of backing, both in the polished production and from his band-mates who lather on a swathe of “oohs” and “aahs”. This has always been the kind of music best heard live, so it feels slightly unfair judging them from the depths of my cold, mid-Winter abode. I’ll try and be gentle.

They all kick off the show by getting fast and wild for “Back Of My Car”. It’s a track that toys with going full-Nirvana on us with a sequence of “Territorial Pissings”-chords for the verse, only to then cut the charade and shift into full Bowling For Soup mode. There’s a slide down into half-reggae for “So Jaded” that will make you smile, but from here they slip straight into auto-pilot with a sequence of songs that battle each other for worst lyrics and most obvious structure. The medium-pacer “Last Night” wins the former category with the line “Last night it really wasn’t me / I had too much to drink / Baby, can’t you see / It was the Hennessy” and “Sitting By The Railroad” wins the latter with its ghastly backing vocals and dire four-chord rotation.

Their creative peak hits somewhere in the middle. JM’s thick, throaty growl cuts up superbly for the heads-down rocker “Dead By Dawn” giving it a dangerous, Ramones-esque edge. All worn leather and cigarettes, howling guitars and pounding skins, this one breathes life back into the whole shebang. “Smack Valley Train” gets its New York Dolls-snarl on in the verses before flicking up into a bold major chord for another over-eager, slickly fluorescent chorus. The bridge interestingly gets a dose of Maiden-esque guitar licks to add to the pile whilst “Emilie” ducks back into brainless hammering and off we go again for another round of pogoing. Closer “You’re Totally Mistaken” ups the ante again and stands out as a bit of a moody crusher, soaking itself in feedback, with deep pinged bass and a ripped, singalong chorus – Psychopunch are a band that definitely benefits from throwing in minor chords. Each time they up their dark quotient, they add guile and emotion to what, effectively, is an album that runs straight and true.

Now, this constructive criticism is all well and good at the end of the day but what has impressed me most about the band is their philosophy. It dominates everything here and this is the reason you need to take notice of because there are so many fakers out there. JM sums it up with the words: “We don’t think our attitude has changed over the years in terms of wanting to be a great live band that makes people happy and gives them a chance to forget about their problems.” How can you criticise a band with that outlook on making music? It’s like happy-slapping a puppy.

End of the day, Smakk Valley isn’t an album without fault but that doesn’t mean it’s not a riot – it could be gold dust for fans of any of the aforementioned bands. Perhaps it wasn’t my cup of Joe this week, but the next time I feel like letting loose and partying hearty, I’ll be checking my local listings for a band called Psychopunch because I know I’ll have a good time at their show.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =
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