Possible theme for 2005: The Year of the Name Change. First Manitoba’s Dan Snaith was legally pushed by Dictator “Handsome” Dick Manitoba to change his name to Caribou. Then, equally heinous orders were brought against dios by Ronnie Fuckin’ James Dio, leading to the eventual settlement on dios malos. And El Guapo, thanks to a Budweiser-sponsored pop-punk band and not a lawsuit brought by the villain from The Three Amigos, changed their name to Supersystem. And with new a name comes a new label — Touch & Go records. But most importantly, with a renewed identity comes an amped up and super-fabulous sound.
Okay, well, Always Never Again, the debut by Supersystem/third album by El Guapo depending on how you look at it, is essentially an extension of the Guap’s spastic electro punk sound of before. Somehow, though, the band has taken it to a new level, pushing themselves to create an album that’s even more compelling and, dare I say, fonk-ay, than its predecessors. The first single, “Born Into The World,” is enough to convince naysayers of their newfound awesomeness. Lead vocalist Justin Destroyer (aka Moyer, aka Edie Sedgwick) sings cold observations like “I live above a jewelry store/behind a massive plate glass door/in a bright cold room, where the rain would flood right in,” while guitarist Rafael Cohen plays his best Robert Smith guitar over hot beats and atmospheric new wave keyboards. It’s the club hit that might never be, but will earn a solid spot among your own personal favorites, either way.
“Everybody Sings” is another standout, with a call and response theme of failed unity:
Do you feel a connection to people on the scene
From time to time
Do you feel a connection to people in your dreams
Yes and no
Do you feel a connection even if you tried
From time to time
Do you feel a connection to everyone alive
Yes and no
One would hope a song like this could get people to come together, even if just to dance for a short while. Its successor, “Defcon,” conversely, is a manic, unsettling spazz disco track. “Six Cities” is a more African-influenced track, not unlike that of dancepunk peers Mahjongg. “Miracle,” however, like many of Cohen’s guitar riffs, sounds far more Spanish influenced, like Depeche Mode if they had put heavier beats in their, ahem, “Spanish Taster” version of “To Have and To Hold.” But when the band’s melding of styles gets too overwhelming, you can always go back to “Tragedy,” a straight-up disco punk raveup a la Gang of Four.
Though it’s hard to ignore the band’s past (unless you had never heard of them in the first place), the newly-dubbed Supersystem is an entirely new band. They’ve been reborn as a solid unit of badass disco punk and Always Never Again is the first of what we should hope is a long series of albums to come that emphasize substance as well as style and good songwriting on top of experimentation and surprises. El Guapo is no more. There is only Supersystem now.
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.