Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Music
Photo: Katie Hovlan
cover art

Cobra Skulls

Agitations

(Fat Wreck Chords; US: 27 Sep 2011; UK: 7 Nov 2011)

Satisfyingly committed punk

Reno, Nevada’s Cobra Skulls are undeniably a punk band — they play hard, fast, guitar-driven outbursts of fury masquerading as songs, few of which last longer than three minutes. But the band knows too that to make any kind of memorable mark on the music scene, something more is necessary: tunes.


As in, melodies, and maybe a few hollered harmony lines if you’re feeling adventurous. Cobra Skulls incorporate both, along with radical innovations such as tempo shifts and lyrics that amount to more than free-floating adolescent aggro. Album opener “Six Degrees” is a catchy, fast number that might be targeting global warming — “Six degrees will bring us to our knees” — but then again, it might be about something else altogether.


“Iron Lung” follows, with a few memorable lines of its own: “So many ways to break a man, and make woman forget / Life we know is but a dream — but they don’t have my dream yet”. Okay, so it’s not Tolstoy, or even Neil Young, but it’s clever and pithy. Singer Devin Peralta specializes in such lines, delivered with a raspy eartnestness reminiscent of Joe Strummer, and yes, I know exactly what a compliment that is.


“The Mess” begins to show the band’s range, utilizing a slow opening and a stuttering rhythm in the chorus. Sad to say, few punk bands bother to try different sections in their songs, but this album is filled with multi-part tunes, even though most, like this one, barely top two minutes. That said, if you’re a six-string freak looking for guitar solos, you’d best look elsewhere. “All Drive” comes midway through the record and is probably the best song here, which is to say it’s pretty damn good. Peralta’s spitfire vocal delivery layers over an urgent bed of guitars and percussion and, again, a melody line and chord progression that worms its way into the listener’s ear and snuggles up a while. This is followed by “Drones”, which is nearly as good, though it throws a curveball with its lounge-act intro and break halfway through. Don’t like it? Hey, it’s only 82 seconds.


As if making the point that their bag of tricks is still burgeoning, “The Mockery” utilizes acoustic guitar and twee singing to lull the listener — although at this point, it’s doubtful that too many listeners will be lulled. “The Minimum” is a straightforward rock tune that takes aim at an economy that treats workers as disposable units: “We’re all too big to fail, so can we bail out everyone? / Not afraid to labor but I need so much more than the minimum”. It’s refreshing, to say the least, to hear a punk band taking swipes at real-world issues, notwithstanding the limitations imposed by a two-minute song or four-line verse.


Album closer “Believe” opens with acoustic guitar but forgoes the expected jump into high-octane thrash. Instead, a surprisingly melodic song unfolds, a statement of purpose and conviction that as touching in its way as The Clash’s “Garageland”, which closed out that band’s first album. “Believe” is a worthy successor in that tradition. And yes — I know just how big a compliment that is, too.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


Media
Related Articles
26 Mar 2014
As protests continue to rage in Venezuela, a traditional Venezuelan spirit is on display. It is thoughtful and reflective, yet opaque. It might be best understood through the music.
13 Mar 2014
The man who sampled the Clash's "Straight to Hell" for M.I.A. teams up with his heroes and Frank Ocean to bring summer to your speakers a few months early.
2 Jun 2013
Margaret Thatcher is dead, yet her influence is stronger than ever. What lessons can be drawn from the cultural response to Thatcherism, and can they be applied again?
4 Apr 2013
Mick Jones (The Clash) and Tony James (Generation X), aka Carbon/Silicon, release their latest tune and video, "Big Surprise".
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.