[27 February 2012]
Grubstake is a punk band in the truest sense of the word. Not that they play simple three-chord songs with buzzsaw guitar distortion and no solos—there’s some of that, but not much—but on a deeper level they embody a kind of DYI ethic that doesn’t worry too much about, y’know, sound quality or musical proficiency. Violin, accordion and toy piano aren’t exactly staples of the punk aesthetic, and their inclusion should let you know that you’re not entering typical Ramones/Bad Religion/Blink 182 territory. “The Great Escape” kicks things off with murky guitar noodling and a marked absence of power-chord bashing, which is taken up in subsequent tunes like “Spirit of Dublin” and “Telephone Message from Cadillac Franky Z.”
Okay then, points for being unconventional. But are the songs any good? By American Idol standards, no—the musicianship is minimal and the vocals from frontman Paddy Wax are only marginally better. But there is an undeniable groove present, and a sense of what-the-hell-is-happening-here that makes the record an intriguing listen at the very least. Ironically, one unquestionable punk nod, a cover of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Well,” is among the weakest tracks here. The band does better with its own straightforward rockers like “No Stranger to Uzbekistan” and"Jihad Jane,” not to mention the pseudo-polka of “Vurdalak” and companion piece “Instrumental Vurdalak.” Fess up—when was the last time you heard Russian lyrics in your punk rock? Thought so.