On first listen, it’s easy to dismiss Spank, the new EP by the Olathe, Kansas three-piece appropriately named Bummer, as a generic angry punk record. But as of the second listen, it’s more than just raging noise.
Deadly themes rise out of dismal drones and pounding thuds fill this 20 minutes of what the band describes as "Neanderthal rock," which ends in a fiery feedback fuzzblanket that might unleash repressed tears or a fit of cathartic wall-punching.
This stuff is negative and sad. Half of the songs’ chorus lines begin with, “I don’t.” Singer Matt Perrin doesn’t “know why the bull has to die.” He doesn’t want to say how he feels. He doesn’t think he knows what he’s doing, and he knows he’s not fooling anyone.
So what does he want? In “Dorm Water,” the album’s closer, he pleads for escape – perhaps from the entitled attitudes he condemns in “Infinite Witches,” or the wasted death for glory on the bloody battlefield of “Double Stairway To Heaven.” These lyrics are specific enough to get a rough sense of what’s bothering Bummer, but there’s plenty of room for personalizing, and Perrin’s vocals encourage individual interpretation.
Some lines stand out clearly, while others require ear craning to understand. “Bad News,” an anthem against rape culture, ends with Perrin repeating, “Rape culture flows across this land. Can’t you see how detrimental that is?” after an admonition that “it’s not funny. No it’s not. It’s not funny. I hope you rot.” The EP maintains stark balances between explicit and general raging phrases everyone has wanted to scream at least once. Even a happy listener can find something to relate to on this record.
“Spank” is Bummer's third EP since it formed in 2012. The band uses its basic three-piece structure to its fullest potential without excessive guitar pedals or electronics. Bassist Mike Gustafson powers through all six tracks like a freight train carrying explosives, while Perrin’s guitar and Thomas Williams’ drums follow just closely enough to know when to stretch their limits (the band has just returned from a regional tour with a new drummer, Sam Hutchinson).
Perrin’s vocals sound like he is strangling an innocent sweat-drenched microphone, but his voice never reaches low indistinguishable roars of bands like Underoath – it’s a direct sound that summons the feeling of standing right next to the PA and headbanging at a live Bummer show. And if feedback was its own instrument, Bummer would have a fourth member.
On “Dude Baby,” a track about searching for the right words, Perrin climbs up an octave to uncomfortable minor chords that shimmer with despair. Williams’ bulletproof beats maneuver through fast irate tempos and sad sluggish ones. Instead of building a uniform wall of sound, Bummer hammers holes of percussive vocal and instrumental rests – to let the ears breathe and the dreadful lyrics sink with full impact into the heart.
Hannah Copeland is an announcer and arts contributor at KCUR. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahecopeland.