Review Summary: An eclectic, unique punk album despite some small flaws.
Truly great punk rock circa 2012 is quite the rarity. For every gem there seems to be a plethora of milquetoast bands aping the classics or power pop bands trying their very hardest to milk the punk image for all it’s worth (not very much nowadays). That’s why songwriters like Pat the Bunny are such a breath of fresh of air. His bands Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, Wingnut Dishwasher Union and his most current outfit Ramshackle Glory, while all roughly falling under the folk-punk genre tag, are consistently musically eclectic and lyrically heartfelt ventures, and Ramshackle’s latest effort Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? is largely no exception, even if it’s a little rough around the edges.
The music feels spontaneous, piecemeal and very DIY – instead of the typical wall-of-sound 3 chord guitar/bass/drum attack of modern punk music, Ramshackle communicates the punk rock gutter poetry of frontman Pat the Bunny with an eclectic array of trumpet, accordion, banjo, mandolin, piano, fiddle and acoustic guitar – nary a distorted power chord can be found in the album (practically). The band’s Bandcamp even has their music listed as “punk rock played with all the wrong instruments”.
The production is extremely lo-fi - quiet and distant. The drums are barely audible save the distant pitter-patter of the snare and faded ride cymbal hiss. The hazy, clunky production sounds like it was hastily mixed on the free 30-day trial version of some low rent audio editing software, with each track imported from an 8-track tape recorder. Perhaps a kind of low-fi charm was intended (and arguably achieved excellently with previous album Live the Dream), but instead much of its punk rock power and energy is lost somewhere in the hackjob production. All of it makes sense in context with the band’s staunch DIY ethic, but nonetheless detracts from the arrangements. This is in contrast with the intimate (but raw!) clarity of previous album Live the Dream. The energy crackles and practically bursts at the seams in that album, unshackled from an unnecessarily low-fi production job that nowhere near does justice to Pat the Bunny’s infectious songwriting. That said, the eclectic, energetic music and typically passionate delivery of Pat the Bunny’s singing mostly serves to supersede the production woes.
As is typical with projects fronted by Pat the Bunny, much of the focus is given to Mr. Bunny’s strained, yelping vocals and awkward, yet honest, lyrics. Social unrest and anarchic political proselytization is the order of the day here, along with his nakedly vulnerable propensity for self reflection (and deprecation) – “I swear to a god that I never planned to believe in/that if I ever drink again/it's going to kill me or I'm just going to wish that it did/I'll tell you right now I didn't quit shooting dope/to watch the border patrol pull this *** unopposed” (“Gospel Music For the Coming Social War”). This isn’t just your average left-leaning bumper sticker sloganeering – the lyrics push an earnest message of anger and frustration that’s simple, yet wholly sincere and evidently culled from Pat’s own experience rather than sounding like suburban armchair activism. Of course the blunt and rather unpoetic nature of the lyrics may rub some listeners the wrong way (especially those who can’t get behind a very liberal political and social message), but they’re hard to resist when married to Bunny’s passionate delivery.
Sharing the spotlight with Pat’s lyrics are several spoken word sections that sporadically appear throughout the album, and are perhaps the most intriguing part of an already endlessly intriguing album. Spoken over a running musical motif, they come in the form of stories shared by friends of the band – accounts of rape, drug abuse and general disillusionment. This running focus on storytelling and lyricism is largely the album’s (and much of Pat the Bunny’s other work as well) best part and the spoken word samples further solidify Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? as a piece or work worlds away from the typical glut of by-the-books punk outfits, and is yet another entry in Pat the Bunny’s remarkable winning streak.
Listen to/purchase the album (streaming is free, album only $5!) - http://ramshackleglory.bandcamp.com/