You’ll get further with musical skill and a punchy, effervescent female vocalist than you will with musical skill alone.
I’m sure that’s not the philosophy behind Discount, but it could be. Vocalist Alison Mosshart is the band’s not-so-secret weapon, a seething dynamo of tuneful punk-rock energy who forces music writers to thaw out long-neglected adjectives like “stroppy,” “exuberant” and “Red Bull Poster Model.”
When girl-fronted punk rock is done with style and aplomb, the sky’s the limit. The Go-Gos showed us the vast potential inherent in mixing a winsome voice with proto-punk anthems; I mention them primarily because Mosshart sometimes sounds like a young, infinitely less complacent Belinda Carlisle. However, in place of simplistically bouncy new wave melodies, Mosshart’s Discount cohorts (Todd Rockhill, Ryan Seagrist and Bill Nesper) support her with chunky guitar rhythms swollen with detail and vitality. Like just about every new album on the punk/emo scene these days, Crash Diagnostic was produced by Burning Airlines’ J. Robbins, who clearly no longer has time for sleep. Robbins’ penchant for granite-solid rock riffs is essential here, as it keeps Rockhill, Nesper and Seagrist front and center, active and essential participants in the music rather than an afterthought or a mere foundation device for Mosshart’s luminous performance. No wonder many CD-booklet printers are beginning to offer stock pre-printed with “Produced by J. Robbins.”
Some of the best tunes here are also the shortest—something of a mixed blessing on an album where the longest track falls well short of the four minute mark. Both “Sleeping Motor Boy” and “Hit” offer invigorating, pogo-friendly melodies, but they’re over before your heart rate goes into overdrive; fortunately, the strident “Age of Spitting” allocates a nearly-epic 3:02 in which to work out your frustrations. The brilliant “T.V. Kiss” doesn’t even make it to the one minute point, but damn it, it’s good enough to justify at least another 30 seconds.
Clocking in at 34 minutes, Crash Diagnostic isn’t significantly shorter than other current punk albums—and its consistently high quality far outweighs the benefits of padding the disc with a bunch of of also-ran tunes. I’m thoroughly satisfied, but after hearing what they’ve achieved here I can’t help but want more.
// Notes from the Road
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