Fuck this year. 2020 has proven to be the most disappointing annum in many regards but, perhaps most importantly (at least within the goings on for this website), 2020 has gone down as the year which stalled the releases of an impressive number of albums, completely halted all touring routes through North America and diverted attention from most of the things people take pleasure in – and seen it be refocused it on despicable acts committed by despicable people. It’s a pretty disgusting state of affairs.
Perhaps worst of all, attention will have been diverted from the release of Round Eye’s great, breakthrough achievement: Culture Shock Treatment. Following a succession of releases which have each served as important developmental steps along the way, this album (their fourth release) arrives as more an indie punk or just punk document (less a freak punk album) produced by the great Mike Watt and released on Paper + Plastick Records (owned and operated by Less Than Jake’s Vinnie Fiorello). In effect, Culture Shock Treatment arrives with the endorsements of several punk rock luminaries attached – at the one moment in modern history when it will be really hard to get audiences to notice.
Punks do need to listen up and pay attention though – because this album is THAT good.
Whether or not it was the addition of Mike Watt as producer isn’t completely clear, but the difference in Round Eye’s performance on Culture Shock Treatment is evident as soon as the title track explodes to open the album. There, the guitars supplied by James Hogan and the nasal bass tone of Livio Ercoli come right out of Mike Watt’s wheelhouse but fit the tone and tempo of the song in a very ideal way; the manic vibe exuded by the instruments compliments the vocal styling of singer Chachy Englund’s rant (“I don’t give a fuck about homeostasis – oh no”) perfectly.
That’s the other thing: right from note one, Chachy’s vocals are far less repetitive than they’ve been on the band’s previous releases. Again – they’re geared more to punk rock commentary here than they are to freak punk’s abstract mania (or – let’s be honest – to just something that can fill space in a mix), and that change is absolutely thrilling. The clarity and obvious improvements to songwriting gets even clearer when “Culture Shock Therapy” gives way to “Smokestack” and Chachy abandons his melodic, nasal vocal tone in favor of confrontational commentary which takes up the entire space between the left and right channels. The addition of the horns provided by Mac Wooley as well as that fantastic, nasal bass tone adds further depth to the song.
As the album progresses, it can’t be ignored that Round Eye does take some time to try out some different ideas with fascinating results. The layers of harmonized vocals which suddenly appear in “Magaman” almost sound like Sha Na Na on speed, while while the lilting sway of “Red Crimes” marks a completely different tone and tempo for the band. On top of that, “Years” sees Round Eye completely abandon the compositional structure so regularly employed by the band as they take up a tone and form reminiscent of Black Flag while “Catatonic” actually apes a really good impression of The Ramones and “Uomo Moderno” mocks up a form closer to The Minutemen in execution but a little surfy and post-modern too. Those turns each illustrate that Round Eye is capable of much, much more than listeners could possibly have realized before, and really leaves bait behind for listeners to be excited for more, after this album’s runtime runs out.
Needless to say Culture Shock Treatment leaves Round Eye in a really, really good place insofar as having a lot of space to stretch and develop on future releases. Some critics could retort that, “Of course they do – every band does” – but it’s different, in this case; on this album, Round Eye illustrate that they are capable of far more than any of even the band’s greatest fans could have imagined. It’s remarkable; it remains true that 2020 will indeed go down in history as one of the worst years in modern history, but Culture Shock Treatment will clearly stand out as a great warm spot in the sun, hereafter.