LA rockabilly stars return to the limelight after 35 years
LA punk outfit X are in the process of a truly riveting comeback. Their eighth studio album, ALPHABETLAND, was released in April, and has garnered a substantial amount of excitement over the band’s return to the punk scene after a 25-year hiatus. X is composed of drummer DJ Bonebrake, bass guitarist John Doe, guitarist, pianist and occasional sax player Billy Zoom, and vocalist Exene Cervenka. The band served as a rockabilly front in the Los Angeles punk scene during the ‘80s, with their label representing a passionate outcry against the depraved state of the LA music industry. ALPHABETLAND shouldn’t disappoint X fans; it recalls the best of the band’s ’80s discography with a strong sense of familiarity. On the album, it feels like one of punk’s greatest legends has time-travelled to the modern day, while managing to achieve a nostalgic feel without losing any of X’s original attraction.
X brings the same energy and precision to ALPHABETLAND that the group brought to cult-classic Los Angeles in 1980. For a band bursting with romance and passion, X manages to spin rock, bluegrass and punk into a relatable and approachable studio album. The album, with only a single song over the three minute mark (“Cyrano De Berger’s Back”), runs fairly short at just over 27 minutes in total. Despite the comparatively quick runtime, X manages to pack 11 spunky tunes (including two returners- “Delta 88 Nightmare” from Los Angeles reissue, and “Cyrano De Berger’s Back” from 1987 See How We Are) into the composition. Fans will enjoy Cervenka and Doe as they serenade the listener with lyrics about the good ol’ days in punk music, growing older and falling in and out of love. This is all done without abandoning healthy dashes of angst, of course.
The album starts with title track “Alphabetland,” presenting an experienced sound that hooks the listener. Where complexity is lacking, likability surges throughout this album. Melodic simplicities are often contrasted with flashes of hot guitar riffs and some entertaining vocal anomalies. Songs like “Free,” “Water & Vine” and “Angel On the Road” are fun and catchy with twists of punk coinciding with strong rockabilly vibes; the guitar and bass lines are predictable but precise and lively. Lyrically, the songs’ verses and choruses are pleasant, but lack diversity. ALPHABETLAND comes to a close with the spoken word piece “All the Time in the World,” with accompaniment from pianist Zoom. In an homage to Cervenka and Doe’s Venice poetry workshops so many years ago, “All the Time in the World” recites a message about the bumpy journey X has taken as a group and as individuals in the LA music scene.
As an album, ALPHABETLAND successfully draws inspiration from the sound of X’s earliest works as a group. X serves as a great reminder of the powerful bands and unique productions that came out of LA’s ‘80s music movement. A rather simple album, it still manages to incorporate elements of punk-rock that appeared decades prior without abandoning the roots that allow for modern punk today. Indisputably, both die-hard and beginner punk listeners will be hanging onto their quarantine chairs waiting for a chance to see X in-person once live shows are again in the realm of possibility.