Punk rock is a complicated thing to define, and that’s putting it lightly. In an age where identities can be swapped around like shirts from Hot Topic, the definition of punk seems ever changing. Against Me! is punk. I mean, they’ve got to be punk. Death Grips are punk; Run the Jewels are punk; is Miley Cyrus punk? Maybe… I mean, some signs point to yes… I think. One particular definition that has always stuck comes from Billie Joe Armstrong, who’s probably still punk.
“A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’ So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s punk!’ So he kicks over a garbage can and says ‘That’s punk?’ and I say ‘No, that’s trendy!’”
The So So Glos are a band that has been watching the line between punk and trendy worm it’s way through the streets of Brooklyn, their home, and haven’t always been happy at what they’ve seen. Their previous effort, Blowout, had them crying for the loss of the bodegas at the expense of yuppy-freindly coffeehouses. New York has been a city that has played a key role in multiple art movements, but the the environment that has inspired them doesn’t seem to be respected in the same way. Levi Zaru (frontman for the band) has noted in an interview that the people of “New New York… want to see the CBGB toilet behind glass at the Met, rather than sit on it at an actual dive.” Well put.
Playing together since they were little kids (you can even hear their first practice on Blowout), the SSGs have a distinct sense of brotherhood that comes through on each song. Starting from a very high place with album opener/single “Dancing Industry”, Kamikaze sets its tone as a party record for a tumultuous evening. There’s a sense of victory going on and yet someone’s mourning for something lost. Was it authenticity? Was it the true, or at least more, spirit of Brooklyn in the late 90s? Was it their youth? Probably all of three and everything else.
Recorded with scene-veteran, John “Speedo” Reis (Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu) this is music that demands to be heard live. Gang vocals and hooks abound, but also explores a greater range of sounds. “Sunny Side” with it’s acoustic guitar and string section has a distinctly Beatles-esque flair to it. “A.D.D. Life” manages to ride a very fine line between annoying social media condemnation and matter-of-fact narration. It’s not totally damning the narrator’s current state of mind, but it still manages to wish for something else. “King’s Country II: The Ballad of a So So Glo” takes the same frustrations and hits a sweet spot. A story of two different people who have become swept up in technologically-aided narcissism becomes self-incriminating when the narrator, staring into his phone, confesses that: “I guess I’m a bit more like them than I’d like to admit”. This is a huge sigh of relief, as any band involved in the current music industry must realize, they play into the tsunami of digital content as much as much as anyone else. Thankfully, there’s nothing more punk rock than being self-aware enough to go: “Yeah, I know. Fuck us, right?”
As the release date for the album came closer, a Facebook post from the band admitted that Kamikaze was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they were coming close to self-destruction themselves throughout the past year. Thankfully, they’ve managed to soldier on.
If I can fit in one more definition of “punk:, it’s probably somewhere along the lines of feeling like hopeless mess that remains triumphant against the world for a few brief, glorious moments. In the case of the SSGs, there should be plenty more of those moments to come.
review by Graham Caldwell