Tryin on the Outfits is the 12-song debut from the Outfits, who are an all-girl punk band (or were, anyway — more on that later). Formed roughly a year ago, the band rose to local prominence (a relative term) quickly, especially given the many other representatives of their genre — fast, noxious, four-chord punk rock. As they've stated (in a December interview on WMPG's Local Motives and elsewhere), the band feel self-identifying as an "all-girl punk band" to be a narrow view — for all they're concerned, the Outfits are just another group in a classic punk tradition. While this is a laudable and genuine position for them to take — probably necessary, in fact — the distinction overshadows the true reasons they've become an important and interesting band.
On Tryin, the Outfits' formula is so simple it's almost restrictive. Sierra Roberts's Rat-distorted guitar carves out a narrow crawlspace early and doesn't leave. Kate Sullivan-Jones's bass playing, while lively and efficient, often sticks so closely to the guitar that it gets lost in its mud. Some of Anna Flemke's drum fills, like on "(Baby) Why Don't You Ever Call Me," are decidedly not nailed. But, truly, who the fuck cares? Technical proficiency is so not the point, and one of the Outfits' strengths is how joyously they hammer this message home. Roberts's vocals ooze with an adenoidal snottiness that makes Joan Jett sound like Bonnie Raitt, and while that may obviate traditional considerations of vocal quality and beauty, it creates far better associations instead. Similarly, another unique trait is Flemke's kinda-spastic-yet-religious attention to the 16th-beats on the hi-hat, which lends these songs a shuffling, almost disco-ish energy while cleaving necessary distinctions from the punk standard.
Simplicity never compromises the Outfits' best songs, which load short punk blasts to messages so irreverent they're almost topical. "I Hope I'm Gay," a catchy would-be anthem sung from a cheeky, unironically doting perspective, is one. The bilious, overlapping shouts of pop-song-gone-wrong "Saturday Night" are another, and "Night Owl" borrows '60s rock and roll to apply some timeless down-and-out criticisms to Portland. In other hands these songs might be problematic or bonerishly irreverent — from the Outfits, a song like "On the Rag" makes for a pretty fresh perspective.
But the fact that they make a capable pass with the flickering torch of punk rock still doesn't address the crux of the band. Though it might be tempting to think so, it's not gender ambiguity. Neither is it androgyny, as their crassness and anatomical references can confirm. The answer — and what makes Tryin a good record — is actually captured within the recording: Not only does the Outfits' debut keep its warts, fuck-ups, and mislaid fills, but its songs are bridged by laughter, audible four-counts, and non-sequiturial chirps, which give these people far more character than, say, the fleshy Polaroids that scatter the album's packaging.
: Music Features
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