TRULY COMMITTED The Pubcrawlers have a new album out, and you should hear it.
It takes true commitment to translate to the studio the kind of pub shout-along anthems in which the Pubcrawlers specialize. It's one thing to shake your fist and shout "oi, oi, oi" in front of a crowd of boozy well wishers. It's another to do it in the soundproofed environs of the Studio.
Something went right with Rogues, Outlaws & Drunks (no Harvard comma for these guys), though, and the Pubcrawlers' new album is a real shot in the arm, great for getting fired up with a late-night buzz, even if there's no one around to help you with it. The 10-player group produce here a tumult of sound that tiptoes the line between traditional jigs and reels and the kind of prog metal the Brits loved in the late '70s.
The Pubcrawlers like to build songs, opening with naked traditional instruments like the bagpipes or penny whistle, then layering on fuzzed-out electric guitar, breakneck drums, and sneering lead vocals from a variety of voices (even their Facebook pages name them Andy and Travis Pubcrawler). The album's opener, "Two Bit Town," features a bagpipe intro like a guitar solo, plus a set of lyrics in the chorus that doesn't quite fit in all the syllables, lending a sense of urgency. A late delicate descending mandolin contributes humanity and humility.
"Auld Lang Syne" is seriously undertaken for a couple of verses, and while you know it's coming in hard at some point, the tension builds nicely while you wait for it: "I would never get that fucked up."
Nor do they overplay that well-worn classic, getting in and out pretty quickly. The traditional medley that runs seven minutes later in the album makes sure to shift and squirm through the treatments, with "Red Haired Boy" as the central piece, and something sounding like "Turkey in the Straw" in the finish. Maybe the thing they do best album-wide is change up the dynamics and keep the album from sounding too similar song to song, despite being so thoroughly invested in the Celtic punk genre.
Things come completely out of the blue every once in a while, too. The guitar solo in "Hooligan," both in its tone and its content, is way more radio-rock than you'd expect. Contrasted with the raging bagpipes, it's an interesting back-and-forth. "Lose to Win" is a simple, traditionally sculpted folk tune, but the lilt in the chorus might remind you of the way Nada Surf deliver that "I know a thing about lovers" line in the Go-Betweens' "Love Goes On." There's even a genuine note of menace in "The Last Outlaw" to remind you this isn't all some kind of send-up.
But this album isn't about the surprises or those places where the Pubcrawlers go outside of their comfort zone. This album is about the "ho, ho, ho/Hey, hey, hey" of "Dead Men Tell No Tales," where the guys manage to use a word like "scallywag" without sounding absurd. It's about the sing-song chorus of "Dicey Reilly," like a kids' song made lewd: "She would never give it up." It's the way it feels, as much as anything else, like a band completely comfortable and confident in their sound.
ROGUES, OUTLAWS & DRUNKS | Released by the Pubcrawlers | with the Blaggards + the Outsiders | at the Brickhouse, in Dover, NH | Oct 11 | at the Asylum, in Portland | Oct 12 | the-pubcrawlers.com