Culture Shock Treatment LP
(Sudden Death Records)
It may have taken a while for the band to finally get all the paperwork signed and all of their distribution ducks in a row (technically, Culture Shock Treatment was completed in 2020 and Paper + Plastick Records released it digitally late last year – but then everything got problematic) but, happily, everything has come together and Round Eye’s fourth album has finally been released on vinyl. Better still, because the album was made and released after the end of Donald Trump’s tenure as president, Round Eye has changed the subject and chosen to address more interesting things; this album offers fans a breath of fresh air made all the more vibrant with the help of production provided by punk and alt-rock institution Mike Watt and a mix applied by Descendents drummer/punk rock guru Bill Stevenson – which bring elements of punk classicism with them as well as a fresh kind of bite that longtime fans will find exciting, and which promises to win new fans over too.
As soon as the album’s title track (literally) explodes to open the A-side, listeners are given a completely different impression of Round Eye, now completely removed from the Trump-y lunacy on which the band offered commentary, before. There, singer Chachy leads the band a few steps away from the Freak Punk fury that Round Eye spent the last few years honing and perfecting, and touch upon a more intelligible fprm of punk rock which isn’t quite pop-punk (the vocals almost dip into a focused sense of melody normally reserved for show tunes), but is closer to that (or maybe to whatever genre New Bomb Turks fell into – gunk punk, maybe?) than anything else. The lyric sheet here feels more sublime than subjective (check out lines like, “I don’t give a fuck about the energy crisis, oh no/ I don’t give a fuck about homeostasis, oh no/ I don’t give a shit if I fit politically/ Just wanna scream my fucked soliloquy/ Two minus two equals one”) and listeners will find it easy to fall under the band’s new spell – even when they change the song’s time signature for a second just to prove they can – or ape the dramatic posturing of Jello Biafra (see the “Yes sir!” break/bridge) or otherwise try to throw listeners off-balance. Simply said, it’s an odd and deliberately cartoon-y way to start (perhaps to throw some distance between this record and what the band was doing during the Trump years) – but it will definitely capture the imagination of those listening.
After the title track collapses to a close out of exhaustion, “Smokestack” just stands up spontaneously to do the exact same kind of thing again, immediately thereafter; albeit with a bit more substance in the song structure and slightly more reserved in the lyric sheet. There, Chachy begins the song barking like some kind of manic street preacher while a saxophone bleats along incoherently, before Livio Ercoli’s bass and Jimmy Jack’s drums enter the frame to help contain the madness. Here, “containment” might be the incorrect term to employ, but the band definitely goes out of its way to channel and direct their form rather than simply allowing it to splatter every which way – an idea which gets even better structured as the side progresses. During “Years,” for example, the band exacts their criticism of police conduct (the venom in Chachy’s tone as he says, “Come with us – we’re goin’ for a ride” is both chilling and palpable), while a less speedy and more alt-rock-y tone forces the band to slow down and really let listeners hear what they’re doing. In a similar spirit (which yields completely different results), “Armadillo Man” features a phenomenal rhythm guitar riff which really drives the song and, because the band has never tried anything like that ever before, listeners will pause for a moment, completely hypnotized – before “Circumstances” tries on a plodding tone similar to that of Black Sabbath before speeding off into oblivion.
Comparatively, the B-side of Culture Shock Treatment is even more adventurous than its predecessor, as it seeks to expand the box around the band even further. “Catatonic” lifts very cliche which normally makes a Ramones song great (nasal lyrics, incredibly fast guitars) and recast the exact same thing as a Round Eye anthem, while “Opportunity of a Lifetime” gets absolutely terrifying as the band lets its own collective eyes un-focus to present a sound which approaches absolutely directionless insanity before “Pieces” flips the script and holds on a beat so consistent that it’s almost worrisome (some critics of this review will scoff and say, “You just can’t win”), “Uomo Moderno” trucks in an Italian lyricist and a very “Minutemen” bass line while “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” tries its hand at a formulaic punk song, “You’re So Fucking Cool” re-approaches New Bomb Turks’ territory with even greater results and then “Endless Sleep” takes four minutes to wind both the band and the album’s running down to close the running out. The crushing tempo of that last song seems genuinely intentional after one has gone front-to-back with the album; everywhere else on Culture Shock Treatment, Round Eye doesn’t ease off the throttle even once – which makes the speed at which “Endless Sleep” plods along seem even more deliberate and intentional.
…And then the needle lifts and the records over – leaving listeners to collect themselves and try to decide what they’ve just experienced, all on their own.
After one has run front-to-back with Culture Shock Treatment, it will be impossible for any listener to not declare that the album is Round Eye’s best to date – it is definitely a great play which never disappoints. Between the production, the mastering and the performances themselves, Culture Shock Treatment sets an all-new standard for everything that Round Eye may do hereafter; these fifteen songs are the band’s best to date. If you haven’t discovered the band yet reader, this is the place to start. [Bill Adams]