The last time I checked, there weren’t any rules about what punk rock is supposed to sound like. In fact, the very idea of creating a set of inclusive guidelines pretty much goes against the entire idea of punk rock. Yet most bands that consider themselves “punk” stick to the same formula: loud guitars, short songs, snotty lyrics. Antelope doesn’t follow these characteristics, but at their very core, they are a punk band. Their debut album Reflector runs less than 30 minutes long, which is a good start, and they take a very unconventional stance toward songwriting. Their tracks are minimal and taut, repetitive and stripped-down. In other words, it doesn’t sound like The Ramones.
Antelope, whose lineup consists of Bee Elvy (bass/drums), Mike Andre (bass/drums) and Supersystem’s Justin Moyer (guitar), is a unique sort of punk rock outfit, in that there’s definitely a nonconformist and even somewhat abrasive quality about their music, yet their melodic sensibility is a restrained and even pretty one. The interlaced guitar and bass riffs on the opening title track are hypnotic and beautiful, threading in and out, delicately maintaining a stunning harmonization. It’s dreamlike and gentle, rather than brash and aggressive. And while this album is being released on Dischord, the style displayed here is much closer to that of Washington, D.C.’s patron saint of dream pop, Mark Robinson, frontman of Unrest, Air Miami and Flin Flon.
The band strips their sound down even farther on the bass driven “Dead Eye” and the syncopated, funky “Contraction,” which is even more minimal in its lyrics, Moyer repeating the lines “Gotta get controlled/ gotta get contained.” “Mirroring” displays more of the graceful harmonization exhibited on “Reflector,” while the slightly more rollicking “Justin Jesus” revs up with a subtle aggression, still avoiding overt explosions of distorted guitar, but still maintaining a tightly wound tension. “Concentration” is the weirdest track on the album, still somewhat restrained, but far more dissonant in its bizarre riffs. Meanwhile, “The Demon” most closely resembles a verse-chorus-verse pop structure, yet with a bare minimum of melodic variance in its subtle shifts.
By exercising restraint, avoiding power chords and approaching their songwriting with staunch minimalism, Antelope may seem like the opposite of punk rock. But considering how saturated the market is with three-chord wonders, this is probably the most punk thing anyone could create right now.
Flin Flon – Boo-Boo
Beat Happening – Dreamy
Supersystem – Always Never Again
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.