Paying The Price With Cost of Living
Providence punk rockers, Downtown Boys, are back to put a foot down against the current regime. This crew started in 2012 and have been deemed by Rolling Stone as “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band.” Certainly, this is due to their ferocious combination of political anguish, all inclusive DIY attitude and the always welcomed horn section. Ska would not be the word for this genre though, as the angry bilingual screams of vocalist, Victoria Ruiz, do not leave one skanking on the dance floor, but rather being startled by the in-your-face punk rock attitude conveyed in their first two albums, Downtown Boys and Full Communism.
Cost of Living is the group’s first record with Sub Pop Records. It starts out with introductory horns in “A Wall.” The horn section cuts out randomly into an enjoyable track about being presumably against the promised wall from President Trump. “A wall is a wall / and nothing more at all,” Ruiz screeches as the horn section brings the track back together into an enjoyable opener that shows the heart of who Downtown Boys are — screechy punk with horns when applicable.
“Promissory Note” has an unexpectedly catchy guitar riff over a synthesized effect. That one little addition to the instrumental allows for a minuscule ’80s aesthetic that makes the catchiness of the riff that much more pleasing. The horn section once again brings this track over the top during the latter parts of this track. The Downtown Boys have a horn section that is able to play sophisticated and loud enough that the listener could believe there are over a dozen people in the band.
The saxophone in “Violent Complicity” singlehandedly makes the track. It follows a different pattern from the guitar but makes the song unique for the deep notes that go up and down behind Ruiz’s vocals. “It Can’t Wait” also has a great opening guitar riff that makes this song feel the most indie rock of the album.
Where the album misses the mark is the lyrics and vocals. As political as the band claims to be, the lyrics are not argumentative to the extent of the Rage Against the Machine’s of the world. Instead, the listener is subjected to Ruiz shouting a noticeably off key pitch in tracks like “I’m Enough (I Want More).” The Spanish tracks, which are a refreshing change of pace, do bring a new unique sound that an English speaking listener can listen to specifically for production reasons, which makes them appreciate the impressive instrumentals this album does succeed with.
Cost of Living is not for everyone. Ruiz’s voice is off key and varies all over the place, even for punks standards. It feels reminiscent to Taiwan Housing Project’s lead singer Kilynn Lunsford, without the scary instrumentals and experimentality. However, the group itself spreads a positive message of all inclusion which more groups should focus on, specifically in the punk genre, because at the genre’s heart, punk is about forming a welcome community.