A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Blatant Propaganda LP by The Bar Stool Preachers.
It’s pretty incredible how much a band seems to change as soon as people start paying attention to them and their fanbase swells. History is littered with bands who seemed not to change for years as they attempted to get their legs under them (see Social Distortion, Against Me, Black Flag, Bad Religion and Rise Against – to name only the first which leap to mind), but then begin altering themselves in earnest after the spotlight touches them. The newest great example of this phenomenon can be found on The Bar Stool Preachers‘ new full-length album, Blatant Propaganda. “Night and day” comparisons seem trite, but they’re also very fitting when one looks at this new album compared to the band’s previous work.
While the single that Bar Stool Preachers released in 2015 (“One Fool Down”) found the band presenting themselves as a very straightforward, high-energy indie punk band, Blatant Propaganda immediately changes tacks as soon as “Trickledown” opens the proceedings (and doesn’t take a whole lot of time looking back thereafter). There, those who were won by “One Fool Down” last year will be thrown perfectly off-balance as guitarists Tom Gibbs and James Tetley, bassist Karl Jeffrey and drummer Rory Benis a really tight and shiny pop-punk arrangement at first but, at the same time singer TJ McFaull enters the running, they smoothly and seamlessly transition into a ska rhythm.
The shift is unnervingly fluid but, for those who didn’t know the band had any such thing in them, it’s also very surprising. In this first song, Bar Stool Preachers melodically blow minds as they abide to ska conventions (everything’s on the ‘and’ as it should be, and check out lines like, “Been told I should wait my turn/ To grow up before I learn/ But that’s bull/ Always pushed to the back of the line/ Telling me what’s theirs not mine/ And I’m done” – they sound like they’re out of the best song Sublime never wrote), but make them sound fresh thanks to the band’s own raw excitement. That’s infectious, and can really pull at a listener of the right mind’s heartstrings.
The same kind of scruffy, ska-flavored punk powers “Barstool Preacher,” “Looking Lost,” “Own Worst Enemy” and “Start New” (the oddball, change-up track is “Clock Out, Tools Down,” which blasts out hard to mark itself as a stand-out moment) and listeners may find themselves continually amazed with each successive exercise for the simple reason that each one is tight and rock solid. There are no stray sparks of chaos, nor is there a single misstep anywhere along the way.
While the B-side doesn’t start on the single greatest note with the sort of Sublime-y sounding “Good News” (the band’s strongest songs are consistently the faster and more raucous numbers, which “Good News” isn’t – and the reoccurring “What ever happened to good news” lyric feels a bit thin, somehow), the album quickly recovers as “Keeping Busy” complains about waiting for something over a nervous/nervy chord progression and tempo, and then the loose-sounding skins on “Battleworn” seal the deal with a shot of pure adrenaline to ensure that listeners stay on board for a reprise of “One Fool Down” and then closes a slower and more reflective rumination in the form of “Ballad (of the M1)”. The B-side is, needless to say, a barnburner of an affair; while the A-side of Blatant Propaganda plays well enough, its counterpart surpasses it like it was standing still for power, chops and great songcraft.
And as a whole? Really, even those who were won by Bar Stool Preachers’ previous releases likely could not have seen Blatant Propaganda coming – the album only shifts gears slightly from its’ creators’ previous work, but it still seems to tower over everything which preceded it. Terms like “watershed moment” leap to mind in order to characterize it, but whether even those actually do the album justice is questionable; suffice it to say that Blatant Propaganda feels like it marks the beginning of a journey for Bar Stool Preachers, which may find them reaching the top of the twenty-first century rock pile. Believe it reader – Blatant Propaganda is no bullshit.