January 26, 2015
by Bryne Yancey

Emitting an audible air of effortlessness while performing interesting and affecting music is a tightrope many punk bands simply no longer attempt to walk. To many, punk rock is serious business and the music, lyrics and presentation must always reflect that. Punk rock is The Clash shining a light on sociopolitical injustice; it’s Minor Threat’s straight-edge exhortations as gospel; it’s Black Flag’s severe neurosis portrayed in its most primal form. But punk rock is also Ramones and their desperate, palpable desire to become rock stars by writing simplistic pop songs; it’s Misfits’ inherently goofy horror-tinged aesthetic; it’s Descendents extolling the virtues of, among other things, flatulence. Punk rock at its most carefree and perfunctory can evoke an out-of-body feeling in a listener that no other genre can. It’s OK for punk rock to be fun, because the world around us is deadly serious enough as it is.

Listening to toyGuitar’s debut full-length In This Mess evokes that out-of-body feeling. Jack Dalrymple, a man whom we’d happily listen to singing the phone book, is in top vocal form—this iteration of punk rock, caked in reverb as it is, may in fact suit his talents even better than One Man Army, Dead To Me, or Swingin’ Utters. His voice has more elasticity here, soaring when the moment calls for it, such as on “I’m In my Head,” but occasionally reverting to a lackadaisical drawl that would likely come off as haughty were anyone else performing it, such as on “Static Attraction.” Dalrymple takes a pop songwriter’s approach here, seeing and using choruses as the much-needed exclamation points of the majority of these songs. (That may read like a severe logic whiff, but it’s surprising how few young punk bands seem to even attempt writing choruses.)

In This Mess was recorded in California and it has the sunny disposition to prove it. Gleefully surf-soaked guitars adorn this record; listen to the solo on “When It Was Over,” the leads sprinkled throughout “Is It True,” or the rapid picking on “Sliver of Sun.” No doubt helped by its retro production—the album was apparently played on and/or through a pile of vintage Fender equipment—there’s a undercurrent of warmth present in its tones that’s very satisfying. That warmth even seeps into its poppier, more reflective ballads, and only further highlights Dalrymple’s dexterity as a songwriter and performer. Hell, “Until I Find You” has the cadence of a Killers song; “Roller Coaster” could’ve been written by the Strokes in their infancy (and if they had grown up on the west coast); “Is It True” has the bouncy directness of Pythons-era Surfer Blood. No doubt, open-minded fans of those bands will find moments to enjoy here. These butt up nicely against barnburners like the drums-as-a-lead-instrument “I’m In My Head,” the stomped-out title track and the frenetic “Loose in a Room.”

Dalrymple and the rest of toyGuitar—Swingin’ Utters bandmate Miles Peck, Re-Volts’ Paul Oxborrow and drummer Rosie Gonce—bring a childlike enthusiasm and refreshingly carefree attitude befitting of their name. During a season in which much of the United States is holed up indoors away from blistering cold and persistent darkness, In This Mess is the musical equivalent of a light therapy lamp and bare feet in front of a space heater.

toyGuitar’s new full-length In This Mess is out tomorrow (1/27) on Fat Wreck Chords. Buy it here.