Direct Hit! (never forget the exclamation mark!) aren’t exactly from the most populous area of the country, but their hometown of Milwaukee has always had a thriving punk and college-radio scene, and that upbringing on the classics of punk, pop-punk, and late-80s alternative is readily apparent on Wasted Mind. This album doesn’t just wear its influences on its sleeve, it hand-stitches them onto its leather jacket and makes sure to saunter back and forth across the pit so everyone sees them. And yet this is very much an album that belongs solely to them. [columns] [column size=”1/3″]
Album Title: Wasted Mind
Release Date: 24 June 2016
Label: Fat Wreck Chords
Wasted Mind is a concept album, 11 tracks of silly, intense, fun, and heartbreaking punk based on various famous works about psychedelic drug use (Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and Naked Lunch are referenced in the press kit, but the spirit is much more Kurt Vonnegut). And what better time to write a concept album about expanding your mind than after researching them first-hand and using the experience to guide the song? Such is the course they took, and the results are both exhilarating and sobering. The topics careen from random nonsense – “Paid In Brains,” “Was It The Acid,” – to party anthems celebrating being as wasted as humanly possible – “Infinite Pills, Infinite Alcohol,” “Promised Land” – to succumbing to numbness and hopelessness, or at the very least wryly brushing aside reality even when it’s obviously destructive – “Do The Sick,” “Forced To Sleep,” and lead single “Artificial Confidence.”
After a brief spoken intro warning those under 40 to turn back while they have the chance (and ending with an abrupt scream of “Fuck you, Get Pumped!”), “Artificial Confidence” enters on a sunny, major key intro complete with chiming church bells and a half-sung, half-shouted pop-punk sermon from the book of Four Year Strong. It’s a good example of where things are going next: this album is *very* happy, or at least tries to be. Subsequently, every single part of this song is filled to the brim with hooks. The verse, the pre-chorus, and chorus all have distinct hooks, all of which are good enough to carry a song. Throwing them all together in a triumphant anthem is the best possible way to kick off an album. “Forced To Sleep” features layered vocals in a punchy, Alkaline Trio-esque fist pumper about celebrating chemical dependency. It’s dark but humorous, and catchy as the plague. “Paid In Brains” starts on a swing hook I swear they stole from some 70s pop song (it’s very similar to “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band, but not quite) and wild screamed vocals. It’s equal parts 50s dance hall and zombie apocalypse soundtrack, at least until the clean vocals of the chorus come in and whirl the listener around with a sugary sweet singalong. Anyone who likes The Hives should love this song.
“Promised Land” rides a marching beat and an equally martial vocal rhythm (seriously, the two complement each other perfectly), and builds up to a… saxophone solo? Accompanied by a frantic ragtime piano line, oddly enough it fits perfectly. “Hospital For Heroes” is a pretty traditional pop-puk tune, but it’s got a monster of a chorus hook and well-placed whoa-ohs that makes it sound a whole hell of a lot like classic Blink 182 (Nick Woods’ vocal delivery is also strikingly similar to Mark Hoppus on quite a few tracks on Wasted Mind). “Was It The Acid” is a wild, twisting stream-of-consciousness description of an acid trip that also appears to be a song about spending an entire relationship high (the chorus query of “Was it real or was it just the acid?” is infectious). “Another Dimension” is another strong track, although a noticeable dip from the songs before it. It would still be a highlight on most albums: the ragtime piano appears again in the background, the vocals effortlessly dance between screams, shouts, nasally cleans, and even a near-croon, and the chorus is once again an earworm, it’s just not as hooky as the songs before it.
“Bleach Music” dips a bit lower. The bass hook is a fun change of pace, and the vocal harmonies are fun, but the overall feel is “Sum 41 B-side”. “Infinite Pills, Infinite Alcohol” starts with a nightmarish collection of unsettling sounds and then becomes a moog-led party anthem attached to a pub-song tempo, effectively marrying Jeff Rosenstock and Dropkick Murphys. The lyrics are fittingly dual; it’s a downright sunny tune, and celebrates how awesome all the drugs are, while detailing the mess, garbage and human alike, scattered around a communal drug den the singer is occupying. “Villain Alcoholic” takes a look at how drugs affect friendships, watching a childhood hero sink into the life of hopelessness. It isn’t particularly memorable, but the chorus is still good enough to stick in your head. Closer “Do The Sick” ends as strong as the album began. The music is surf-rock as delivered by a raving street preachers, combining The Beach Boys, Andrew W.K.’s party-punk, and the over-the-top vocal delivery of Every Time I Die. It’s fun, irreverent, hopeless, and very, very punk.
In fact, that’s why Direct Hit! are such a breath of fresh air in the punk scene. Not because the music is original (it isn’t), or because they play it really well (they don’t), but because they remember what punk is: all attitude, all the time, fuck the rest. As such, this is the best punk album of the year so far.