May 28, 2014

Radius Records, the folks who put out The Smoking Popes’ Inoculatorback in 1991, has risen from a twenty-year nap, moved from Chicago to San Diego, and released a mighty fine split featuring two contemporary L.A. punk groups. It’s hard not to be pulled in by the beauty of Paul Aguilera’s cigarette-smoking devil kitty paintings, the art that adorns each side of the sleeve, though the irreverence of the painting doesn’t fully capture the depth of each group’s contribution. To that point, Gentlemen Prefer Blood are one of those groups that has cracked the code and crafted a melodically catchy and lyrically engaging sound in the pop punk genre, a genre which I love, but which I think offers a challenge for being inventive within. They carry the pop in their songwriting sensibility, and the punk in the look-life-in-the-eyes effect. On “Rochester,” my favorite of their two tracks, Todd Smailes sings of “keeping guarded in the underground/saving smarts for the showdown” in a gravelly tone set over inviting palm mutes, and in seconds, your ears are met with a rise of vocal harmonies that somehow make the song arrive both emotionally and sonically, a rare accomplishment in just over two minutes. Hands Like Bricks, maybe the more straight-forward rockers of the two, stands as catchy, singable, moshable, and drinkable. And are we talking 7-Eleven fountain drinks—yes?—then, yes, even refillable! Songs like “The Old Crowd” and “Sunday Stuff” work for me, but I’m not sure if they really show the band’s dynamic and range as well as their last EP II does. I recommend this split for all the tracks, particularly Gentlemen Prefer Blood’s, but afterward, consider checking out Hands Like Brick’s II as well. 

 –Jim Joyce (Radius)