Artist – Brat Curse
Album / Label – Brat Curse / Anyway Records
Rating – 8 / 10
Sometimes you just have to rock out.
There’s something important and life-affirming about ditching your pretension and cynicism, leaving your worries at the door, and letting a band just knock your socks off. There really is no better way to blow off steam, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a band who understands this better than Columbus rock ‘n’ roll outfit Brat Curse.
Brat Curse, whose music dwells in the space between frighteningly catchy power-pop and high-octane punk rock, originally formed in Dayton, OH in 2014. Brian Baker (vocals/guitar), Justin Baker (bass) and Chris Mengerink (vocals/drums) started the trio after the dissolution of their previous group, Yakuza Heart Attack. The band’s lineup was later bolstered by the addition of lead guitarist Joe Carmelengo, best known for his work with such local acts as Van Dale, Classical Baby and This Is My Suitcase. And, of course, members of the group are also affiliated with other well-known local acts like SEGA GENOCIDE, Good Shade & Bribed Fuzz, making this band a bona fide supergroup of central Ohio talent.
With the release of their first self-titled full-length, the group established themselves as one of the Buckeye State’s must-see straight-up rock ‘n’ roll acts. Over the past few years they’ve remained fairly active, working steadily on music and (until recently) touring. Recent posts on their social media hint at work on a third album. With all this in mind, what better time than now to revisit the colorful noise and vibrant chaos of their second self-titled LP?
Right up front, the artwork, by Columbus artist and known vaporwave legend Keith Rankin, tells the listener exactly what they’re in for: some eye-popping, slightly off-kilter punk rock magic, shot through with feedback, excitement and gleeful weirdness. Over the space of about half an hour, that’s exactly what we get, as the band tears through their latest round of material with speed and poise.
Brat Curse kicks things off nicely with opener Sweat Pants Lawyer; it’s zero to 60 in half a second, and they never let up. “To have it all / It must be nice” laments Brian Baker, over the band’s squealing guitar attack. After a bit of stop-and-start riffage, Carmelengo and Baker strike the listener directly upside the head with a quick harmonized solo break. A bit shy of two minutes, this is an absolutely perfect way to kick things off, and a great intro to the band’s sound at that.
The high energy doesn’t let up on Under the Gun. It’s a bit slower and groovier, but it charges ahead relentlessly, as if still propelled by the inertia of the previous song. There’s a certain grunginess to the chugging guitars in the verses, and to the airtight vocal harmonies floating over it all. Of course, this mounting tension explodes outwards in all directions during the chorus, an eminently danceable affair that stuck in my head for days after the fact. After the second hook, the band takes a left turn into a hardcore-esque, but no less catchy, breakdown.
The feedback from the ending of the previous track leads the band directly into It’s On (Until It’s Not), perhaps the poppiest track of the bunch so far. They start this track off at a slightly more measured pace, but dance through it with lightness and alacrity. Like their grunge predecessors, the band gets a great deal of mileage from contrasting chugging, reined-in verses with explosive singalong choruses. The result is an absolute barn-burner, especially when the second chorus’s squalls of feedback lead into an abrupt, exciting shift into double-time. There’s nothing wrong with your sound system; Brat Curse have simply worked themselves into a frenzy. This one is an early highlight, and should be on local radio at all hours of the day.
After the energy of the last few songs, Go Down is a cool-down jam of the highest order. The chugging rhythm guitar clocks a tight pace, which the other guitars melodically twirl and dance around. At multiple points, the song feels as though it’s going to shoot off into the stratosphere at any moment. But, wisely, the band lets the song simmer, never quite letting the Mentos hit the Diet Coke. Instead, more lovely guitar lines, awash with tremolo and fuzz, give way to a lovely arpeggiated synth, which dissolves into noise and oscillations.
Psycho in the Furnace is next, and it’s back to no-frills rock… but, of course, the contrast between this song and the previous piece keeps it fresh and bracing. Brat Curse yet again pulls off the neat trick of making two minutes feel like no time at all; the piece’s brevity makes it repeatable and remarkably substantive. A slight fake-out ending brings the song to a screeching halt, giving the listener a quick chance to catch their breath.
The next song, Spring Break Reagan, starts off with a few tape-manipulated snippets of pianos and guitars, before surging into a high-spirited, surf-rock-esque punk romp. This sugar-rush instrumental workout gives the band a great chance to let loose and let it rip at a gleefully high volume. With a rhythm section this tightly wound, the band never loses its relentless groove, strongly and resoundingly finishing the first half of the LP with a ton of energy.
Side two kicks off with Sobriety Butcher, a lovely acoustic piece with a disarming, cracked-mirror arrangement. Glazed-eye harmonies, a twinkling piano and a wailing electric guitar take this song to a wholly unexpected, disorienting dimension. The way the piece bottoms out toward the end is almost shocking – but, at this point, I shouldn’t be surprised at this band’s ability to keep surprising me, taking their seemingly simple songs in entirely unpredictable directions. Regardless, this song caught me off guard quite a bit, and it just may be my favorite of the bunch.
Another lightning-quick jam unfolding at breakneck pace, Who Do You Call? gets things moving at full-tilt again. Baker’s vocal on the chorus is simple, catchy and collar-grabbingly direct, making it perfect for enthusiastic shout-alongs at live shows. As with the best of this band’s material, this song is a refreshingly straightforward gut punch, but subsequent listens reveal quite a bit of depth. In true Brat Curse fashion, the band turns left at the song’s end, slowing down to bang out the ending riffs for a bit before letting the electric guitars ring out and squeal. This is a phenomenal track, and another highlight on an album full of them.
Then it’s off to Freak Net, another fleet-footed pop-punk jammer that’s in and out at lightning speed. The band again demonstrates their talent for brevity and frankness, as well as an eye for the small details; the freaky, squealing electric guitar sounds in the second verse are a simple touch, but they add a lot of excitement. “It doesn’t have to be this way / One foot in the grave” hollers Baker over the cacophony. The song ends as suddenly as it began, stopping mid-lyric as if it were unplugged from the wall.
Blink and It’s Gone, another late-in-the-game highlight, emphasizes Brat Curse’s grungier qualities while still showcasing their knack for tight pop songwriting. (Come to think of it, “blink and it’s gone” describes many of these songs.) This one is propelled forward relentlessly by some interesting chords, and more fantastic interplay between Justin Baker’s bass guitar and Joe Carmelengo’s guitar textures in the verses. About two-thirds of the way through, the band builds tension with a newly dissonant chord progression and gang vocals – singing “blink and it’s gone,” of course. And then they just rip, full steam ahead, never taking their foot off the gas until after the final chords ring out. It’s fantastic stuff.
The penultimate track, Modern Snakes, is perhaps the closest the band gets to straight-ahead pop-punk. The song starts at a fairly low simmer, keeping the whole band at a steady pace but not quite full volume. About halfway through, Brian Baker switches his singing to an octave higher, turning his reedy bark into a full-throated shout. This seemingly galvanizes the whole band, as the rhythm section launches into raucous, blown-out riffage. The electric guitars strike up another beautiful harmonized solo before retreating into the background, fading into our closer.
Acid Capsule Tina starts off a bit more measured and methodical, before hitting a mid-tempo strut with a chugging bassline and gooey, liquid guitar lines. But the band’s infectious energy doesn’t let up, turning this grunge ballad into another study in build and momentum. The song just flies by, and Brat Curse finishes strong. A few quick bursts of wailing electric guitar, a swelling of noise, and then… that’s it. The band hangs there for a moment, in silence, and the record ends. Of course, this is the part where I press play, and let the whole thing run again.
I must say, I wasn’t too familiar with the work of Brat Curse before this review, though of course I knew about the bands they were all in, but I’ve been completely won over by this record. Every song does at least a thing or two that I don’t expect, and many of them have stuck in my memory long after the fact. This set of tracks is layered, rock-solid, and endlessly repeatable. The song structures are simple but impeccable, allowing the band to catch me off guard and get these songs under my skin every time. Even on subsequent listens, when I know what to expect, the sheer energy and excitement of this record still feels like a bucket of water to the face. In other words: this LP is the real deal.
Brat Curse is more than just a great rock ‘n’ roll band: they are rock ‘n’ roll, in all its brash and unselfconscious glory. If this album is any indication, rock ‘n’ roll is alive, wide-eyed, high-spirited and absolutely crushing it.
- Sweat Pants Lawyer
- Under The Gun
- It’s On (Until It’s Not)
- Go Down
- Psycho In The Furnace
- Spring Break Reagan
- Sobriety Butcher
- Who Do You Call?
- Freak Net
- Blink And It’s Gone
- Modern Snakes
- Acid Capsule Tina
Brat Curse – It’s On (Until It’s Not)