I requested to review the Dirt Bike Annie album solely on the basis of a recommendation of hip-hop jokester, MC Chris, who mentions them on his site from time to time and even talked about jamming with them. This is where my dad would make that crummy joke about assuming making and ass out of “u” and “me”, which I never understood because the person making the joke is then implying that your assumption makes them an ass too. Why not share the wealth, I guess, but I prefer to believe that assumptions only make an ass out of the person making them. Given MC Chris’ fealty to old school hip-hop and keen satire, I figured Dirt Bike Annie to be similarly bent. That they’re actually a glassy, well-adjusted bubblegum punk outfit, gave me the same low-grade disappointment that comes from catalog pictures not accurately reflecting the merchandise you purchased. I know, I’m the ass, not you or them.
To be honest, I find pop punk to be one of the most unmoving genres of music in existence. The relentless bouncing volley ball tempo and the total absence of threat have this enervating effect on me that makes me think I should be out shopping or getting to the keg before it’s out of beer. In it’s polish and foregone anger, pop punk’s relationship to punk rock gets gracelessly severed like an unnecessary leg amputation using a long slow paper cut. The resultant neutered pap fits squarely in radio’s teen snaring playlists where it gets credit for being loud but edgeless, shouty but devoid of any emotion that might foment forbidden activities like politics and thinking. It doesn’t help that the number of bands who vague around in punk-emo-metal have proliferated like algal bloom. Having said all that, there’s definitely something about Dirt Bike Annie that sometimes skirts those common pitfalls and avoids entirely sinking into septic TRL mediocrity.
Chugging along on a new wave riff, “The Sends” cribs a bit from Billy Squier’s “Everybody Wants You” and the departure serves them well. Although it’s hardly original to put an eighties lens on punk, the mere implication of sexiness adds a much needed muck up to their pigtail sheen. The interplay between Jennie Lee and Adam Rabuck save many of the tracks by adding a rowdy roughshod dialogue to the mix. “Wireless Connection” sounds like a more polished Mates of States track with a chorus that verges on cheerleading (in a good way). They both tend to strain their vocals to the shredding mark, but for some reason, when done in tandem the effect hardens and sweetens the pot. The songs with Jennie Lee on the lead mic held my interest the most by veering from the punk-lite formula. Both “Two Ton Wait” and “Note to Self” take more cues from Throwing Muses and the Breeders than some of the cutesier power pop and punk influences that plague the rest of the record. DBA keep the songs tight. The guitar chords sound like controlled seizure blasts and the drums propel every track forward with running downhill momentum. If that kind of non-stop punch works for you, they’ve got the skills.
Despite the aspects of Dirt Bike Annie that I sort of enjoy, there is much that simply draws from that Jimmy Eat World meets Linkin Park vibe that absolutely kills me. Opener, “Battle Lines” has the WB written all over it. I’m sure it would be great for an aerobics class. “The Tango Tangle” similarly mushes along through a speedboat chord clip where the bass, drums and guitar fuzz together and the vocals fight to holler above the indifference-inducing mess. So many songs take the exact same tack that insulting them specifically amounts to an act of redundant cruelty. Coming in at just around forty minutes, Show Us Your Demons suffers under an addiction to hook and hyperactivity, with nearly every song spent on arrival and lacking anything other than earnestness shouted badly. The incessant skippy abandon turns every song into a one tempo pony that barely registers before shuffling through yet another beach blanket Black Flag track.
This is one of those CDs that I am so predisposed to dislike that I feel the need to admit that I have no idea if these people are truly awesome at what they do. I figure it’s better to let you know that then pretend that my taste in bands is so panoramic that I come to each CD with a zen-like blank slate. The secret to music criticism is the belief that you can do it, much like the secret to politics. Most people are uncritical deepthroaters of feigned authority. Of course, I don’t actually think that my subjective reactions to art carry any more heft than yours, but if one of us is going to get free music, it may as well be me. I can say for certain that Dirt Bike Annie approach their genre with a slant that’s at least somewhat quirked and an enthusiasm that most people will surely find contagious. But not this hoss.