CNTS 2024
Photo: Ipecac Recordings

Punk Rockers CNTS Offer ‘Thoughts & Prayers’ to the Hypocrites

Punk rockers CNTS have created a tight album that brings the hothouse vibe of a crammed club: bare concrete walls, bodies slamming in from all angles, and crowd surfers.

Thoughts & Prayers
Ipecac Recordings
29 March 2024

No polite “Would you mind…” No clearing of the throat, vocal warmups, or singing scales. From the first second of this excellent bulletin from CNTS, the listener joins them on the punk frontline. “I Won’t Work For You” barrels straight in, everything louder than everything else, and all a perfect roar of defiance against the snooty, wrongheaded, false assumption made by a certain contingent in society who place their own supposedly magical work ethic on a pedestal from which they look down on and criticize those who struggle.

Thoughts & Prayers manages this trick throughout, wedding socially conscious energy to riotous punk rock crunch and songs that just wanna have fun. Who wouldn’t enjoy yelling: “I’m still a shit-talking smart mouth son of a bitch!” as a chorus line? The quintet of Matt Cronk (vocals), Koko Arabian (rhythm), Kevin Avery (drums), Rico Adair (bass), and Michael Crain (lead) have created a tight album that brings the hothouse vibe of a crammed club, bare concrete walls, bodies slamming in from all angles and crowd-surfers hemming you in from above – I mean that as a compliment.

“Alone” brings in an industrial energy with a tightly wound barrel-roll of a main riff and the most frantic vocals on the record. It’s all the more impressive given Cronk suffered a brutal car accident, which left him unable to speak or sing, given damage to his vocal cords. He credits the love of playing with CNTS as a crucial step in recovery; it meant so much to be able to get back with the group and to be able to continue at all, and it helped spur him on and give him hope. This first-hand experience of existential crisis undoubtedly fuelled the blistering urgency of these songs, but it goes hand in hand with the catharsis of sheer pleasure, too. Crain states that CNTS would respond to uncertainty by asking themselves, “…what would AC/DC do?”

“For a Good Time (Don’t Call Her)” is Thoughts & Prayers‘ one significant change of pace. A stripped-down, popping drum machine beat builds back up for the choruses as Cronk recounts a relationship tipped too far into one person’s therapeutic needs and desires. It’s like an update of Offspring’s “Self Esteem” or “She’s Got Issues”, and, like those ancestors, the lyrics are acerbic, harsh, but witty: “All day I couldn’t figure out exactly why my anxiety was so fucking high, or this feeling of dark doom and hate…Then I remembered: tonight we have a date.”

There’s rage here, too, though, at the morally desiccated nature of US conservatism, where any sense of charity, empathy, or kindness appears to have been dispensed with in favor of self-righteousness and the thrill of power. In “Drown”, Cronk roars at “every pious man pointing a finger”, while in “Eating You Alive”, he’s furious at “the kissed rings and finery” of a religious right that has long chosen to join the money-lenders in the temple. CNTS have clearly picked their side in the war against those who want to either create a US theocracy, erect a white nationalist state, or have a turn stomping on someone else’s face.

“Junkie” is an intriguing move, lyrically speaking, with its invocation of the twitchy, always-on, always-pressured existence of the titular character. It’s not a well-meaning liberal request for sympathy; it simply portrays the roughness of life at the bottom – the sympathy flowing from the nature of that life rather than any daytime TV charity advertisement speechifying. One of the longer songs on the record, it changes pace for a final verse with a deep chugging bass and high screech of guitar, providing the boundaries for a cleanly articulated desire for relief amid despair.

The closer, “Drown”, stands out from its first moments as CNTS build one at a time into an all-in slam, then everything cuts to a spinetingling tap-tap-tap before returning with new levels of dissonance and discord matching the song’s sentiments. It’s intriguing how CNTS keep up the pressure on Thoughts & Prayers from start to finish, with each change of mood ratcheting the energy up. That ability to move in a direction beyond loud/quiet, fast/slow, marks out the group’s talent, which shows across this profoundly compelling marriage of words, music, and emotion.

RATING 8 / 10