be your own PET: be your own PET

[6 June 2006]

By Dan Raper

Comparisons, comparisons, comparisons. be your own PET, Nashville’s fierce teen punk foursome, has been garnering them constantly since they came on the scene with “Damn Damn Leash” last year. They’ve been called inheritors of the Stooges loose-edged punk, The Ramones, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and a bunch of other no-longer-in-currency punk and garage rock bands. Singer Jemina Pearl’s voice has been compared to Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (only about 500 times), but also with Kim Shattuck from the Muffs, Kim Warnick from the Fastbacks, and Kathleen Hanna from Binkini Kill. But I want to line the band up with another young girl-led group with a debut coming out soon, Australia’s the Grates.

I made a prediction, the end of last year, in a PopMatters Short Take of the Grates’ The Ouch. The Touch EP that the Grates would beat be your own PET for girl-led spaz-punk debut of the year. After hearing both, the truth is, if you rolled the two albums together you’d get the perfect girl-led spaz-punk debut—because where the Grates are over-produced into poppiness, be your own PET flail around in their ADD-inspired punk howl without a pause to allow us to catch a breath. And with 15 fierce songs clocking in at just over 30 minutes, we could use some relief.

In fact, if you look at the tracklist, only the last four songs even get anywhere close to three minutes’ length. Big surprise, but these are by far the best songs on the album. Not the most immediately catchy, but still the best. I wanted to hear more of the Ritalin-fueled gleeful 12-year-old-with-a-new-toy boast of “Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle”, or the swampier, bass-driven “Wildcat!”, to hear these ideas developed into fuller songs, fleshed out and given their due.

These songs are powered by rocket fuel and schoolyard fights, by boredom and Xanax and that particularly teenage mix of knowledge and innocence. There’s nothing ironic about the fact that Pearl’s favourite song is “Bunk Trunk Skunk”, on which she screams, “I’m an independent motherfucker / I’m here to take your virginity.” But where’s “Damn Damn Leash”? It hasn’t been that long since the group’s first single caused the press explosion similar to what Lily Allen’s experiencing right now. I’m not sure why the decision was made to omit the group’s best single; oh well, at least we got “Girls on TV”, which is like a lesser cousin of “Damn Damn Leash” anyway—less bile, less shocking impact.

It’s when be your own PET take their time or slow things down a touch that the songs actually have a chance to shine. To an accompaniment of jungle-beaten drums, “Adventure” reveals Pearl’s pretty singing voice, and the tune will be stuck in your head for days (the mention of tigers made me think of “19-20-20”—and conclude, yes, Grates are better at writing pop songs). OK, it’s not rocket science. She’s singing “We’re, like, adventurers / We are adventuring / we are adventurers”, but who listens to punk rock for the depth of the insight? Similarly with “October, First Account”, which leaves out the thrashing guitar for a second, throws in a little disco, and builds to distortion in a satisfying crescendo.

To tell the truth, at first I found Grates’ Gravity Won’t Get You High something of a betrayal—almost, punk sold out. You can’t level that accusation at be your own PET. They couldn’t be more consistent, blasting their way through with a winning combination of ferocity and too-snotty-to-care insouciance. And if the album breezes past you without leaving much of an impression, if the songs sound all too much the same, we can forgive them. be your own PET’s just trying to have “Fuuuuuun”. On that one-minute and 20 seconds of overdriven guitar glory, Pearl says, “we can have a very good time together”—and you think, if we’re not too old for it, maybe we can.

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