It's easy to get lost in the sheer number of punk-influenced indie bands, with many of them utilizing the same musical touch points (The Pixies, Hüsker Dü, etc.) and sounding, well, similar.
Boston's Garrison could've gotten lost in the fold, too, but they haven't. And one of the reasons why is their new album, Be a Criminal, a 10-track tour-de-force that blazes by in just under a half-hour. While it's easy to compare them to a lot of artier punk rock and heavier emo, and those comparisons are relevant, they not only manage to rock like hell, but they deliver a consistent and listenable set of songs.
The most glaring facet of Be a Criminal is its concept: it's an album about committing a crime. A paranoid, tense album about doing something you're not supposed to be doing. The cover shot alone -- a straight-on shot of a security camera -- is evidence of the feeling of these 10 tracks. The world is closing in, discovering your secret. They know.
And at the same time, the disc's ten tracks aren't quite the concept album that they seem. The track titles themselves are actually a narrative: "Recognize an Opportunity"; "Choose a Weapon"; "Know the Locale"; "Focus, Focus, Focus"; "Commit, Commit, Commit"; "Dump the Body"; "Don't Feel Bad"; "Cover the Tracks with Cash"; "Catch Your Breath and Have a Cigarette"; "Accept What You've Done, Accept Who You Are". But despite those titles, these songs don't so much follow a direct narrative of a single crime as much as they explore different emotions that correspond to these different stages surrounding the crime.
And at that, this album isn't really as much about physically murdering someone as it is about personal crimes. Manipulation, greed, and deception are the foci, not violence.
So as an intelligent punk album, Be a Criminal has a sturdy concept and some pretty good songs to back it up. Garrison -- which consists of vocalist/guitarist Joseph Grillo, vocalist/guitarist Ed McNamara, drummer J. Morrissette, and bassist Jason Carlin -- do burn through these ten tracks with a lot of intensity and passion, and the performances do tend toward the heavier side. But they have a bit of a pop bug (remember the Pixies reference earlier? Remember how the Pixies were as catchy as they were loud?), so on some of the numbers, particularly the wistful "Commit, Commit, Commit" or the direct (surprise) "Focus, Focus, Focus", the songs are structured, catchy pop punk. Not candy-coated like mainstream pop punk, but the edges are sanded just enough to show that these songs are not the work of a bunch of novices.
But Be a Criminal is primarily about emotion: particularly darker, typically unspoken emotion. Emotion that betrays. And on that premise, Garrison have created a song cycle that follows the plot arc of one vicious and frightening mood swing.