Culture Abuse are the band of the privileged, rebellious, punk-loving masses. Their debut full-length, Peach, so perfectly encapsulated the angst, anxiety, and amusement of leaving home and moving to a new place. The songs were abrasive and loud. The vocals were mixed right in your face. And the lyrics just hit the spot. They were angry, but not ever misplaced. It’s about realizing your small position on this big planet, and reacting accordingly, even if it’s not so mature. There’s fear, regret, and desire, and it all ends with the frontman, David Kelling, repeating “Like a chain around my neck” with a heavy drawl. It’s dread, people. That’s where Culture Abuse was two years ago.
Their follow-up, and their first with Epitaph, Bay Dream, has so many of the surface signifiers of Peach‘s Culture Abuse, so a fan of the old will easily become a fan of the new. It’s all here: Kelling’s needle-point observations, fuzzy tones, and a heavy flirtation with the Ramones and Beach Boys. No fans will be lost in this album cycle.
As much as it’s the same musically, it’s also an entirely different creature lyrically. Culture Abuse are no longer so upset at the world. If you want to be vague, you could say they have seen the light. “Bee Kind to the Bugs”, which will no doubt become one of the focal points of the album, includes the following piece of advice: “Be kind to the bees, be kind to the bugs, be conscious of others, be careful with drugs.” It’s a quirky lesson, for sure, but it’s heartfelt. Later, on “Bluebird on My Shoulder” Kelling croons “lonely road no more, no more” while the background vocals “do do do” all over the mix.
It’s a love-fest all over, but it doesn’t scan as schmaltz at all, perhaps because the narratives are so relatable. On “California Speedball” Kelling sings about chilling with friends in the park and how much he loves it. His mind often wanders back to those moments, he says. The title track details the stomach-churning guilt of leaving friends and family. “Dozy”, a Bowie-like strut of a jam, is about wanting to stay home and laze instead of dealing with, well, anything. We’ve all felt these things, so it all rings true.
The simplest pleasure on the album hits right in the middle. “S’Why” is a song about a person Kelling enjoys, and that’s it. Here’s the chorus: “That’s why I like you around. ‘Cause you make me feel good.” There’s not much more to the song, but it just feels sweet. That’s the idea, though. Bay Dream is a group of people realizing something basic yet revelatory: people are the purpose for it all. Call them up. Go to the park with them. Sit on the stoop with them. Just enjoy them while you can. That’s the dream in the end.