Contrary to popular belief, punk isn’t dead. It just sounds nothing like it used to. The ailing genre, once built on rebellion and noise has undergone countless metamorphoses, but in its long journey from the Sunset Strip to Champaign-Urbana to Gainesville, somehow the heart of punk found its way back home to Los Angeles. Thanks in no small part to bands like No Age, HEALTH and Mika Miko (and all ages venue The Smell), the classic spirit of punk has re-emerged, but it’s sporting some fancy new threads. This is particularly noteworthy in the case of Chino, Calif.’s Abe Vigoda, a band that shares the distorted, melodic sensibility of bands like No Age, while injecting a bit of tropical danceability, something that few, if any, of their peers have ever attempted.
Dubbed `tropical punk’ by many, Abe Vigoda’s most striking characteristic is the hyper-speed, calypso beats that underscore each distorted guitar anthem. That furious rhythm practically begs you to swivel your hips in time with the beat, yet if your hips can move that fast god help us all, and good luck in keeping them in one piece. That sort of rhythmic uniqueness is what drives the bulk of Skeleton, the band’s excellent second album. It’s an urgent and maniacal roller-coaster of careening, whirlwind good times that will easily leave you out of breath, yet still craving a second ride through its melodic twists and turns.
Within the first track, “Dead City/Waste Wilderness,” the group lays out all their strengths at once, with surf-inspired guitars sidling up next to high-pitched, distorted riffs and that ever-present, manic rhythm. While decoding Juan Velasquez and Michael Vidal’s indecipherable lyrical howls can prove nearly impossible, their presence becomes another effects-addled addition to the gorgeously chaotic scenery. The Devo-like new-no-wave of “Bear Face” is a giddy curiosity, with guitars acting more like steel drums. Meanwhile, “Lantern Heights” veers back and forth between low-key verses and furious explosions of sonic joy. “Whatever Forever,” meanwhile, is a rare occurrence of an entire track being taken over by a giant burst of noise, which quickly subsides in favor of the melodic celebration of “Animal Ghosts.”
In spite of the overwhelming speed and dense effects that pile up within each track, Abe Vigoda is both capable and eager to create infectious melodies. “Cranes” is one such song, still awash in vocal obscurity, yet launching headlong into a sublime, almost Vampire Weekend-like accessibility. “Live-Long” even sounds like a long lost post-punk hit, bouncing and shimmying with confidence and glee. Likewise, “The Garden” plays it clean, with gorgeous guitar harmonization briefly descending into cacophonous breakdowns, only to return to the mesmerizing path from which it once diverged.
Skeleton finds Abe Vigoda providing precious few breaks in the course of the album’s 32 minutes, but they guarantee nothing short of complete aural stimulation over that rapidly galloping time span. After a few deep breaths and another brave venture back into the brink of the band’s dissonant, melodic madness, a clearer picture comes into view. Whereas it’s the speed and the intensity that first strikes the listener with maximum impact, it doesn’t take long to latch on to Abe Vigoda’s brilliant melodies. Punk, as we once knew it, is dead; vive Abe Vigoda!
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.