Once upon a time, in the years of our Lord 1977 - 1983, what constituted "punk rock" was a far cry from the strict confines of today's definition. While today's punk rock (although, thank the Gods, this seems to be turning around), has settled upon a stripped down version of rock n’ roll/blues rock, played at fast tempos, usually with some sort of anti-authoritarian lyrics overtop. This is one tributary of punk's raging river, however, popularized by the likes of The Ramones, The Exploited, Cleveland's Rocket From The Tombs. And while we love our glue-huffing, safety-pinned pogoing brothers and sisters, that's just one flavor of punk.
Especially when it was first emerging, punk was a place where anything could happen, frequently in the same show, often in the same song. You could have the sarcastic Surf Twang of the Dead Kennedys rubbing leather-elbowed shoulders with Elvis Costello's cynical singer/songwriter Power Pop, only to have the throbbing industrial menace of Suicide or Throbbing Gristle headline. There might be a guest appearance from an avant-garde jazz guitarist, like Derek Bailey, or a freeform hillbilly mystic, like Eugene Chadbourne or Henry Flynt. Alan Ens is taking punk back to its checkered past with this wonderful, self-titled album Alan Ens.
Each song on Alan Ens explores a different branch of arty punk. Album opener "Dead End Got Plumbing" sounds like The Talking Heads - probably this project's strongest sonic touchstone - with its up-spiraling melodies inciting frenzy and mayhem a la "Burning Down The House," while the next, "Eternal Curse", is a delicate, highly-accomplished acoustic fingerpicked guitar ballad, like an early Elliott Smith B-side.
There's the avant-Prog-funk of "Pressure Washer," somewhere between Battles and King Crimson with rigid, locked-in atomized melodies and skittering percussion, while "Flaccid" sounds A LOT like "Sappy" from Nirvana. Lyrically, Alan Ens explores the ennui of post-collegiate angst, talking in abstract, absurd, humorous but poetic language about a future seeped in debt, the feeling of indentured servitude and the urge to break free.
Basically, it's punk as fuck, while sounding not much like what people have come to expect from the snot-nosed safety pin brigade. So here's to punk getting smart again, opening up its boundaries and exploring, and mostly, here's to Alan Ens!
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