Russian Girlfriends In the Parlance of Our Times
Published Jun 19, 2019"Coke" by Russian Girlfriends is probably about as close as you'll get to a perfect, archetypal punk song in 2019. The New Mexico band's sophomore album rips right into its blistering opener with pointed fury and unrestrained snark before capping it off with a pulse-raising, half-time breakdown — and it's all over in a minute. It's a short-lived explosion of anger about a topic as old as punk itself: bro culture that's ruining our scene, man. It includes the kicker, "You missed your calling, you should have been a cop," and the accusation/acknowledgment, "You're the reason punk rock is dead." For punks everywhere, lapsed or not, it's a must-hear, because it kicks ass.
It turns out that "Coke" is not really emblematic of In the Parlance of Our Times, but more like the "State of the Union" to their Siren Song of the Counter Culture. This is a record rooted in hardcore punk, but with a rock'n'roll attitude and pop aspirations. Their style has more in common with Hot Water Music and Bad Religion than it does with breakneck hardcore, and then there are bits of pop punk, country rock and biker metal, and a part that legitimately sounds like Train.
Russian Girlfriends' political subtlety, meanwhile, lies somewhere between the sloganeering of Rise Against and American Idiot and the complex volatility of Propagandhi. In the Parlance of Our Times tackles matters of race, religion, sexual orientation and class in a way that's fairly current, but also somewhat lacking in tact and clarity of purpose.
"Pride Parade" is about getting caught up in the titular event while coming home from work. It's not exactly the pointed sermon you'd expect from a punk song called "Pride Parade" — the premise being that our semi-fictional protagonist has a good time, basically by accident — but despite its flippant approach, it ultimately does celebrate acceptance and togetherness while denouncing hatred. "White Guilt White Heat" is similarly unfocused in its discussion of privilege, but manages to cobble together a statement by the end. Among the targets of "Angry Bong Rips," however, are selfies and skinny jeans, which seems frivolous and immature. The band do have a bit of a bad habit of feeding personal vendettas and pet peeves rather than aiming their punches in the direction of broader power and status quo. Then again, that's their prerogative.
What makes it work? Russian Girlfriends can put together a catchy punk tune, and most notably, singer Adam Hooks has as dominant a voice as you can find in a role like this. It's forceful yet tightly controlled, and he can hold a strong melody all while lacing it ferocious roars and bluesy hooks in a way that's similar to Letlive.'s Jason Aalon Butler. In the Parlance of Our Times has many of the hallmarks of a bona fide punk rock record, and for some that'll be more than enough. Whether punk is dead or not, Russian Girlfriends aren't reviving it, but they're at least keeping it on life support. (A-F)