Punk is a pretty fangless thing to claim fealty to these days, not least because nearly anything can be made to fall under the heading of “punk rock” with the appropriate taxonomic fudging. Even potlucks are punk rock, after a fashion, or so I hear. No meat, please.
Berkeley’s Lookout! Records has made a business out of peddling the declawed goods to kids who want their punk served up with extra hooks and heavy on the pop, and minus the abrasiveness or the burdensome politics that still cast a long shadow even in these times of everything-lite. This unofficial policy has subjected the label to much ridicule in certain circles, but business is good, and—judging from the sheer volume of stuff Lookout! puts out—for every cruster with a dog on a shoestring spare-changing on the avenue to buy the new Excruciating Terror record, there’s eight or ten nice kids saving allowance money to fill in the holes in their Mr. T Experience and Squirtgun discographies.
There are exceptions (the label has put out recordings by Filth, Neurosis and Black Fork; the howling Young Pioneers would be anomalies on any big label), but the rule is melodic punk without an abundance of hang-ups. And, to its credit, Lookout! has got an embarrassment of riches in that department: the Donnas, Pansy Division, the Queers, and the Parasites, to name but a handful.
Some of these bands, to be sure, are guilty pleasures; I’ve got a bargeload of friends ready to give me Dutch rubs and tease me about listening to softies like the Parasites singing their whoa-whoa-whoa odes to girls and whatnot, but what are you going to do? You need a couple of Ho-Hos in there to counterbalance all the fiber.
Vancouver, B.C.’s Smugglers sure are a treat. They’ve been around for years and years and they just seem to get better with every release. Punk rock? Hardly. They’ve described themselves in interviews as a frat-rock band careening out of control, with enough satisfying garage crunchiness to merit a listen from people who like to think they’re too hard for this sort of thing but the pop chops and PG sense of humor to disarm anyone who thinks punk rock has to be scary. And come to think of it, the Smugglers almost certainly wouldn’t consider themselves punk at all. Raunchy garage, souped-up R&B, a fine chiming Kinks cover—there are far better things to do with the day than sit around trying to tease out all the strands in the weft here. Do yourself a favor and buy it.