It probably doesn’t matter whether or not punk is dead; there’s still good, obnoxious music being made that will annoy your parents, or even you. Police Teeth, the new self-titled LP by this raucous Seattle band, shows definite potential for mainstream viability, but it’s still rooted firmly in the earsplitting sounds of the underground. A band that’s been around for a good six years or so, prolifically putting out records, that still sounds like a basement-show band certainly seems like punk rock; the songs are a little more sophisticated than on 2007’s Jazz Records For Sale, but overall the formula has been in place the whole time.
The vocals on the album are mostly emotive shouting in the general noise pop tradition--the two-note up-down patterns that pass for melodies--but opening with an unusual track like “Bellingham Media Blackout” is an effective choice. It tromps along in militant, Future Of The Left fashion, setting a defiant tone. Then “My V-4 Weighs A Ton” gives you a better idea of what’s in store musically: great buzzsaw riffs, yelling and terrific, prominent basslines; this latter element is the most compelling development in Police Teeth’s sound, and it sets them apart from the pack more than anything.
“Emmanuelle In Renton” is a quandary; it tries to be the contrasting mellow singalong, but the instruments are still so abrasive they make the subdued vocals sound ridiculous. It’s a rare instance where apparently my enjoyment of it depends on my mood; sometimes I love it and sometimes I feel like subtlety is not a Police Teeth selling point, nor should it be. The closest thing to a stab at a commercial single is probably “Where’s My Fucking Hug?” (he said, with a straight face), and it alternates straight-up belligerence with a classic maudlin guy-girl chorus, accidentally creating a totally compelling dynamic. The chorus of “Life Is Precious And God And The Bible” is also total FM-rock in a Cheap Trick sort of way. As it shakes out, these are two of the best tunes on the album.None of the songs on Police Teeth is bad (except maybe “Emmanuelle”; I still can’t decide), but a bit of sameness creeps in after a lot of listens. The oppressive aggression isn’t as fresh when you know they’re willing and able to write good hooks, and there’s an undercurrent of pointed, humorless (aside from song titles) misanthropy in the lyrics that seems to go beyond politics, which isn’t condemnable but it tends to wear you down as a listener. That said, these crunchy guitar riffs and propulsive basslines are invigorating as hell if they catch you in the right mood. If you find them off-putting when you’re happy, try again when you’re pissed off.