Review Summary: Ambitious, challenging, and hopeful, Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? is the perfect soundtrack for social unrest.
Ramshackle Glory is the latest project from singer-songwriter Pat "the bunny" Schneeweis, the man behind Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains
and Wingnut Dishwashers Union
. In 2011, the group released its debut album Live the Dream, which delivered a series of earnest confessionals with a solid folk-punk backing. The album was mostly concerned with exploring alienation, addiction, loss, and recovery, and its political themes took a backseat to its personal ones.
Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? is a role reversal, serving as an anarchist manifesto first and foremost. The album clocks in at just over thirty minutes, and it's a vicious, unrelenting, laser-focused thirty minutes. Everything about it spells urgency, from the frantic instrumentation to the uncompromising lyrics. Most songs deal with rampant economic inequality and the protest that inevitably rises from it. There's plenty of anger throughout, for the police especially, but said anger is balanced extraordinarily well with an underlying sense of compassion and cautious optimism. It's an album that highlights what's wrong, and then encourages listeners to do something about it. The final refrain of "Last Song" is the ultimate testament to cooperation and solidarity: "There's a way out, but it's not on our own." Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? offers a great deal of lyrical support and comfort to active protestors and political radicals, and I can easily see songs like "Exploration of Coercion in Everyday Life" becoming classics.
Sonically speaking, this album is great. Occasionally clumsy mastering means some sections sound a little cluttered, but those sections are few and don't detract much when they do come up. Pat works his usual raw punk yelps and frenetic guitar strums, and Niki Berger provides some great accordion and vocal backing. Also notable is Eric "Johnny" Freedom's trumpet playing, which really fleshes out the band's sound in parts, and it would be remiss of me not to mention Douglas Fur's fantastic violin work on "*** Everything." Overall, the band plays very tightly and consistently on this album, making for a very cohesive listen. Cohesion also comes from one of the album's more experimental features: every now and then, a song will stutter near the end and fade out over a common instrumental dirge, leading into a spoken anecdote from an anonymous friend of the band. These pieces give some personal context to the political points of the album as well as a definite sense of progression. Some of them miss the mark a little, but the obvious sincerity more than makes up for it.
That's what this album comes down to, in large part: sincerity. If you're looking for raw, honest punk (or folk-punk, depending on your feelings about that term), this album has what you're looking for. If you're looking for anti-statist moral outrage, this album also has what you're looking for. Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? is a thoughtful, compelling thirty minutes of anarcho-punk, and I recommend it highly.