It's October 2013 and the Canadian music zeitgeist has fallen in love with synths and loops and electronics 'n' stuff. Just look at last month's Polaris Prize shortlist, filled with Purity Rings and Godspeed You! Black Emperors and looptacularly deck-driven A Tribe Called Reds. But one of the best performances at the gala came from METZ, all distorted guitars and sweaty noise, reminding us that if punk really is dead, it spunked out some pretty kickass kids before it left. And while METZ were unleashing their fury on the Polaris jurors at the swanky Carlu, the young pups in the Toronto punk band PUP were cheering them on from their Facebook page.Thinking back on it, I can't help but wonder if that might prove to be a telling moment. With the release of their self-titled full-length debut last week, PUP have announced themselves as early contenders for next year's shortlist, to take that very same stage armed with their own distortion and sweat and noise.
The record has been getting plenty of praise already. In the Star, Ben Rayner calls it, "A formidable calling card, delivered with superhuman exuberance, shout-along hooks all over the place..." NOW gave it four Ns. "They’re as loud, shouty and pissed-off as ever," John Semley wrote. "Big riffs, catchy hooks, singalong choruses..." Exclaim calls it, "A landmark debut from one of the country's most promising new acts." Stereogum called them a band to watch. So did The Grid. "They're catchy and anthemic," Brooklyn Vegan wrote, "but they don't sacrifice any of the raw power to achieve those things." They're making waves on Radio 3 and MTV.
It's all with very good reason. From the opening squeal and thrashing guitars of "Guilt Trip", through the slow burn of the "Yukon" valley, to the shout-along choruses of "Lionheart" and "Back Against The Wall", PUP have recorded an album that manages to throw up the energy and piss of proper old school punk rock. But they do it with the kind of catchy hooks and infectious melodies that will expand their appeal far beyond those who feel comfortable launching themselves into the mosh pits at one of the band's messy-in-a-good-way gigs. Producer Dave Schiffman (who was worked with everyone from Mars Volta to Weezer to the (International) Noise Conspiracy to Rage Against the Machine to HAIM) has managed that rare recording feat: an album that captures the energy of those raw, live and sometimes bloody drunken shitshows. Maybe most impressive of all for a debut: the 10-track album is consistent the whole way through. Previously released tunes — "Lionheart", "Back Against The Wall" and "Guilt Trip" all came out a million years ago, "Reservoir" just a few weeks before this new record did — are complimented by an impressive list of new material. The lyrics paint a picture of wasted youth and existential dread in Toronto, complete with a reference to the Don Valley Creek, but it's one with a soundtrack you can jump around to, party with, loose yourself in. The kind of cathartic pessimism that first launched punk all those years ago.
But to me, I suspect, PUP will always remain a band that needs to be seen live. And their next party happens this very night upstairs at Sneaky Dee's. With a bill that includes Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) and Big Dick, it promises to be one of the most floor-bucklingly great shows of the year. Appropriate enough given the record it's celebrating.
Doors at 9. $10 there. Facebook details here. See you tonight.