If their self-titled major-label debut was a peek inside the angst-ridden psyches of bored teen punks, Be Your Own Pet’s follow-up is more like a progress report from their first year away at college. While Get Awkward proves BYOP haven’t lost their penchant for blistering riffs and neck-snapping hooks, they seem to have learned that you can indeed soften up without slowing down, and that showing a little kindness to your amplifier makes you no less punk.
Much like a troupe of eager young scholars, they’ve been traveling away from home these two years since their first record, trying new things, making new friends, gaining new experiences and, of course, doing some serious partying—all of which find a place here.
In reality, the band has been up to everything but school. When they weren’t playing giant concert festivals, touring with Arctic Monkeys or putting in some hang time with indie godfather Thurston Moore, they kept themselves busy with high-profile side projects, some of which garner just as much, if not more, Pitchfork attention than their day jobs.
Guitarist Jonas Stein and drummer John Eatherly have been moonlighting as Turbo Fruits—a dirty, raucous, bluesy garage band with an enthusiastic predilection for cannabis and volcanoes. The Fruits’ debut was released by Ecstatic Peace in November with exceptional reviews. Bassist Nathan Vasquez recruited Eatherly and Fruits’ bassist Max Peebles for his noisy ensemble Deluxin’, while singer Jemina Pearl did a short stint as bassist for her ex-boyfriend’s band Cheap Time.
BYOP have also experienced their first change in the original lineup with Eatherly replacing former drummer Jamin Orrall. Orrall quickly grew dissatisfied with the demands of being in a major-label band and split early last year to join his brother Jake full time in their minimalist DIY rock outfit JEFF. Eatherly’s bandmates describe him as a much better fit, and credit him with helping to resurrect many ideas they’d previously abandoned and transform them into some of the record’s best songs.
Careful not to try and fix an unbroken formula, the Pets once again employed producer Steve McDonald to record at Battle Tapes Recording with Jeremy Ferguson behind the controls. It’s a decision they attributed more to comfort than anything. “He just pushes us really hard, and he’s really, like...forced us to grow,” says Pearl, who refers to McDonald as someone more like an uncle.
Adds Stein, “He’s been through all the same shit [we have], and he did it at an even younger age than us, so he just knows all the right things to say.” It’s true. McDonald was only 13 when his now legendary L.A. punk band Redd Kross released their first EP. It’s a partnership that proves effective with a product slightly more refined than the last, but still raw.
And the record holds some of their fastest, most furious jams yet—here, BYOP churn out old-school L.A. hardcore better than most of the bands who originated it. Still, tracks like “You’re a Waste” turn down the distortion and dial back the tempo to offer a nice breather from the more balls-out, punch-in-the-face tracks such as “Twisted Nerve” and “What’s Your Damage.” Stein has given the heavy reverb and surfy leads a break, and instead comes punching with clean, chunky, razor-sharp riffs that slice through the mix like a karate chop. Combined with the roundhouse kick of Vasquez’s fuzzy bass lines, it’s a rather dangerous combo. Eatherly’s skins are noticeably less minimal than Orrall’s—coming from the more jazz-influenced, sloppy-but-tight, beat-cramming school of Keith Moon—and complement the band’s style perfectly.
Front girl Pearl’s contributions have also been stepped up on this effort. Where previous efforts were marked by snarling, snotty tantrums that alternated with a sweetly moaning croon, here she finds a melodic middle ground on most tunes. It’s a transition she acknowledges, saying that relentless performing has taught her how to sing. As opposed to their previously collaborative process, Pearl was also responsible for writing the majority of the lyrics this time around. The difference is noticeable immediately. Whimsical, playful and often absurd musings on the topics of bicycles and general adventuring have given way to an abrasively biographical approach.
Subject matter on this record teeters mostly between confrontational accounts of personal relationships, friendships gone bad and general grievances against undesirable others. And then there’s the act of or desire to be partying into oblivion. The former gets incredibly detailed and personal as Pearl gets a few things off her chest, while the latter is a series of extended war cries and rebel yells beckoning the good times and invoking some hardcore chemical abuse.
But not all the wackiness from the last record is lost. Conscious that the collection was in need of some tomfoolery, Pearl had Vasquez pen a few songs to throw in—“Food Fight” and “Zombie Graveyard Party”—the contents of which are well described by their titles and even out the album’s tone considerably.
Pearl’s lyrics are also cause for the band’s first bout of controversy. Three of Get Awkward’s (formerly) most memorable tracks—including “Becky,” an angsty ballad and vengeful murder fantasy pointed at an ex best friend, and “Blow Yr Mind,” a 45-second kamikaze tour de force about getting blitzed instead of going to school—have been removed from the final release. Apparently, the suits at Universal felt the subject matter was too explicit for the band’s demographic. Unfortunately, the omissions definitely change the album’s dynamic, but it’s a defeat the band is taking in stride. Luckily for them and their fans, the Pets were able to retrieve the master tapes and will be releasing the excluded songs on an EP for XL Recordings later this year.
As for the future, they express equal parts enthusiasm and unease concerning the year laid out in front of them. They’ll be touring almost nonstop well into 2009, having just finished a West Coast expedition with Danish garage-pop duo The Raveonettes. They’ll appear this week at SXSW, and then it’s off to Europe for two months, then back to the states with summer festivals, Japan and Australia not too far off in the distance.
Mention of the dreaded “sophomore slump” elicits a different response from each of the original members. “I wasn’t thinking about it too much,” says Pearl. “I was really more excited to just do a better job. To really go for it a lot harder than we did on the first album.” Conversely, Stein reveals a bit of anxiety. “I was definitely worried about it,” he says. “But we gave it a good run, and I think we put out something better than the first.”
To their credit, Be Your Own Pet have turned out a fun, intense and summery album already hyped by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, so the odds are definitely in their favor.
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