Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Be Your Own Pet/Be Your Own Pet/8.2

No, what BYOP does isn't exactly the most original thing in the world-- watch out for rampant Yeah Yeah Yeahs comparison-- but they do it with a flair and panache and enthusiasm that belies their youth.

Less Indie, more Rock.

That’s what’s crossed my mind at least a half dozen time listening to some recent CDs these past few weeks. I don’t want clever musical reference to Balkan folk music and Ian McCulloch. I don’t want analog modeled synth lines layered over a sample from a Brazilian pop record. This summer, I crave Rock – guitars, bass, drums and discontent.

Be Your Own Pet have provided me with relief for that craving so far this summer. There are no clever musical allusions, no winking nostalgia – just a singer, a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer playing straight ahead rock. Be Your Own Pet are following an old formula, as ancient and revered as Eddie Cochran, Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone and Feargal Sharkey. It’s also a formula as timeless and satisfying as the ones for bread, beer and barbeque. In terms of polish, the second half of the record has more developed songs – “We Will Vacation”, “October, First Account” and “Love Your Shotgun” show more polish than “Wildcat” or “Thresher’s Flail” earlier on the CD. Other songs like “Fuuuuun” and “Bicycle, Bicycle” survive on the band’s inexhaustible energy and youthful recklessness. I seldom say “Motherfucker” as an expression of joy – Pearl seems ecstatic blurting it out in the chorus of “Bunk Trunk Skunk.”

While there may not be much new to Be Your Own Pet’s songs, I especially liked the production on the record. The band’s exuberance come through clearly without being left too glossy. Fishing around online, I found a Popmatters interview with Be Your Own Pet where the band talked about their producer Steve McDonald of Redd Kross. BYOP spent three weeks in a Nashville studio recording with Steve McDonald (and engineer Jeremy Ferguson). According to Pearl, McDonald kept the band’s energy intact, coaxing them, encouraging them and guiding them through each song. To me, there’s something very right about Be Your Own Pet’s debut being ushered onto tape by a founding member of Redd Kross.

Redd Kross was a teen punk band before the members of Be Your Own Pet were born. On their debut LP, the main members of Redd Kross were even younger than Be Your Own Pet; Steve McDonald was only 14 and his big brother Jeff was 18. Redd Kross went on to explore various genres of garage rock and according to some critics were a predecessor of grunge. In the nineties, Steve McDonald and his brother produced the Donnas’ Get Skintight – another album of snotty, unabashed basic Rock.

If you listen to Redd Kross’s Born Innocent, there’s all the same ingredients as Be Your Own, but with rougher musicianship, more brazen lyrics and an average track length as short as Be Your Own Pet’s. “Self Respect” clocks in at seventeen seconds less than Be Your Own Pet’s “Get Sandy”. “St. Lita Ford Blues” is more raucous and cacophonous than anything on BYOP’s debut. Jeff McDonald’s songwriting is more direct that BYOP’s. However, both bands share the same energy, passion and naivete. They’re kids making Rock that captures what it’s like to feel like a teenager – not in words, but in the performance itself.

I started playing in a band late in my teens, buying a used guitar and amp the summer that I graduated from high school. Plugging in my 50-watt amp and just turning it up to three, I could make a sound loud enough to feel in my bones even when playing clean. Three friends and I spent that summer in a garage with the door up – making lousy music with only the quality of being loud; you could hear us at least three blocks away in our drummer’s subdivision. While we went our separate ways at the end of that summer, those memories of being sweaty and loud stay with me. Perspiration and volume are still cherished qualities in music to me, and bands like Redd Kross and Be Your Own Pet have them in bucketfuls.

The rating on the Pitchfork review didn't bother me too much. However, it would have been nice to see one review that didn't compare BYOP to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There's too long a line of teens making raucous primal Rock that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs need to be the touchstone for this band. I'm not even very comfortable slapping a number on Be Your Own Pet; a band just coming out of high school doesn't need one more grade. I'll just say that I think this record is wicked rad - kkthnx.

Listening to Be Your Own Pet, you can come to one of two conclusions – they’re not doing anything new or they’re continuing a long line of teen Rock that goes back to Ritchie Valens. You don’t need to have a large record collection to find bands that have done the same thing before. However, all record fans started out with a handful of cherished albums – each one representing hours spend at some dead-end job. And I suspect that anyone whose played in any band has experienced that rush of being young and loud with your friends around you, discovering that you can make those sounds you love, sounds that you’ve heard others make, sounds coming from your own hands, fingers, throats and lips. Be Your Own Pet are still discovering the sounds they can make and it’s a wonderful thing to witness.

BTW, if you don’t know Redd Kross and want to witness them in their teenage glory, you can catch this video of them on YouTube as a starter.