Pretty Garbage LP
(Pirates Press Records)
While it’s very easy for me to get excited about a new punk band that I’ve never heard before (I’ve been listening to a lot of punk, for a for a lot of years), running across something which makes me excited because I can’t immediately qualify it is instantly attractive because it’s obviously operating within a paradigm I recognize, but there’s something about it that I just cannot pin down. Come Closer somehow manages to present a sound which is undeniably powerful and imposing with Pretty Garbage, but also definitely melodic and sweet in disposition. Even better, that construct does not falter for some contrived effect on either side of the album.
As soon as stylus catches groove and “Get It Wrong” runs out to open the A-side of the album, the ghosts of Gaslight Anthem and Superchunk aerate easily from the sound. There, singer/guitarist J. Wang cannot hide how earnestly he seeks to present the image of his band as hard rockers rocking hard as his guitar performance seems to almost trip over itself (or perhaps he has difficulty lining up to a click track while recording – it’s unclear) through the verses of the song. While that could be easily seen as a flaw, the song still gets over thanks to hooky lines like “You want to leave/ And I want to get along/ And I want to see/ How the left side was weak and the right side they got it wrong.”
The going gets even firmer as “Get It Wrong” closes out and “Mayday” opens on a much more even and tightly wound tip. There, everything seems to fall into place, effortlessly; Chris Prescott’s snare drum cracks like a gunshot which is capable of snapping listeners to attention while the cymbals mesh perfectly with the trebly tone of Wang’s guitar, and there’s a sweetness about the song’s vocal melody which is impossible to ignore.
Arguably the greatest secret weapon in the “Mayday” arsenal is the fact that it gets in, hooks listeners and then gets out quickly; clocking in at just less than two and a half minutes, listeners will be won by the sound that the song assembles, but will then find themselves running after the band to try and keep up. “Mayday” proves that, when the have it right, Come Closer can indeed pen and perform a song which is not only capable of grabbing and holding listeners’ attention tightly, but have them hungry for more of the same as soon as they can find more.
As the A-side of Pretty Garbage progresses, more highlights do appear throughout its running – but there are occasional deviations which sort of rattle the continuity of the play. Immediately after “Mayday,” for example, “Arms Up” sees Come Closer trade electric guitars for acoustic, but doesn’t augment the dynamics or the song’s arrangement enough to keep it from sounding blurry, while “Photographs” factors in some Elvis Costello-eque keyboards to needlessly complicate the arrangement. Happily, “Bad Skin” does fall between those two cuts and presents some of the best guitar chops on the whole record as well as featuring some of the best lyrics (check out, “Yeah we both knew we had bad skin/ And I want you to be/ Still standing here/ Right next to me” – it’s not rocket science, but it is effective) to keep the side from feeling as though it is on a downward trajectory, before “Never Say Goodnight” arrives to close the side with some pretty great sonic fireworks. There, for the first time in the album’s runtime, J. Wang and Chris Prescott combine their powers and find the first great synthesis of their talents into a sound which comes dangerously close to that of Hüsker Dü; there is a nervous spirit about the song which turns infectious with the power and volume of their performance, and listeners will be left truly baited when the proverbial needle lifts. That is honestly the first great and essential hook in this running, and it’s absolutely brilliant.
As excited as “Never Say Goodnight” may leave listeners, Come Closer insists on starting from scratch on Pretty Garbage‘s B-side. The acoustic guitar which opens the sweet “Just The Way You Are” combined with a much more subdued vocal tone would feel and sound great literally anywhere else on this album, but it opens the side and remains frustrating – no matter how often one listens. Happily, “Highlife” injects new, fresh and infectious life immediately thereafter (it really should have been the first cut on the side), before “Footsteps” sees bassist Davey Quinn assert some solid low end presence into the running (for the first time here – and it’s so good that it makes a case for the bassist deserving more space in the mix in the future), and then “Rings” closes out the album with a satisfied, ballad-esque cut. True, there are other angles that Come Closer could have taken in the twilight of this running, but “Rings” has the capacity to inspire listeners to run through the album from front-to-back all over again right away; it’s not perfect, but it features enough power to get listeners to come along for repeated listens.
There’s little doubt that contending something like, “it’s not great, but it’s good enough!” won’t come off as sounding like a weak close for this review, but such is a reasonably apt way to characterize Pretty Garbage, overall. Yeah, it comes off soft, but hear me out – there are definitely some solid songs on this album, and those deserve further exploration by the band on future releases. Yeah, there are some weak cuts too – but when one recognizes that Pretty Garbage is Come Closer’s first full-length album, such anomalous work becomes understandable, immediately – they still need some time to hammer out the flaws in their form. That said, those who recognize the potential in Pretty Garbage will also likely know exactly what the band’s next steps should be, and will be waiting expectantly for a follow-up to see if the band figured it out, and then relish in it if they discover they were right. [Bill Adams]
Pretty Garbage is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press Records.