Every few years Seattle seems to produce a band that’s wonderfully out of step with whatever the rest of the trendy sheep are following. When that grunge sound was just gaining a foothold on its home turf—but long before it found its way into fashion spreads in the German-language equivalent of Seventeen magazine—the best band in Seattle was Pure Joy. Their 1989 Carnivore album still deserves a slot on that city’s All-Time Top Ten, and I’ll leg-wrestle for Pure Joy’s honor with anyone who doubts me.
Young Fresh Fellows, Flop, the Fall-Outs, Stumpy Joe...the list could go on and on. But because these bands were doing their own thing when (or even way before) it seemed like there was only one thing to do in Seattle, none of them got swept into the musical history books along with Nirvana, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam. They just don’t fit conveniently into the official history, and so are easily forgotten.
And now, along come The Briefs—Seattle’s musical inheritors to a time when punk rock was still fun and reckless and no one really knew or cared much about Seattle’s music scene anyway. And they come unencumbered by useless pedigrees and the nagging sense that the way for a band to get ahead in the Seattle scene—as much as the bands themselves would deny it—is to fit with the corporate record label scheme for finding the next Nirvana: throw a handful of shit at the wall and see what sticks. The Briefs look like they’re straight out of 1982, and they sound like it, too.
The four members (check out these classic old-style punk handles, by the way: Lance Romance, Steve E. Nix, Chris Brief and Daniel J. Travanti—as in the actor who played Furillo on “Hill Street Blues”) of The Briefs claim that they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel—it’s true, theirs is a sound you’ve heard before. But in a way they are inventing the wheel, or at least reconditioning it using the original toolkit. The Briefs can write a three-chord song with one chord left over and make it sound like a brand-new bag. They get more mileage out of rhyming “head” with “dead” (“Rotten Love,” from their LP Hit After Hit) and recycling three of the most-used punk rock chords for a two-minute girl song (“Sylvia,” from the same album) than any melody-savvy punk band since the Dickies or the Angry Samoans. And how in the world can you not love a band with a refrain like “Kill Bob Seger right now!” from the ultra-catchy Seger slam “Silver Bullet”? Clocking in at just 24 minutes (the exact same length, incidentally, as the Angry Samoans’ Back to Samoa), Hit After Hit really delivers on the promise of the title. It is hit after hit, killer song after killer song, an almost perfect punk rock record.
Not yet available in stores (but currently spinning in my personal CD Walkman, ha ha ha), The Briefs’ new album, Off the Charts, is more of the same but just as good as its predecessor—and like Hit After Hit it also spits out 11 songs in just under 24 minutes. “Outer Space Doesn’t Care About You” sets the mood and sets the bar: smash-and-grab guitar, snotty vocals, whoa-oh-oh singalong choruses, savagely funny lyrics (“Cold dead eyes, Sally Ride,” Nix drawls menacingly, “Outer space don’t care for your face”), and Chris Brief’s hi-hat-happy, floor-tom-fury drumming. “(Looking Through) Gary Glitter’s Eyes” is a sardonic ode to the pedophile we celebrate with song at every major stadium sporting event. There’s even a heartbreak ballad (a ballad by Briefs standards, anyway), “Tear It in Two”: “I met you on a Tuesday/You’d only just been released/You told me about your ex-boyfriend/Who was recently deceased...Such a sick thing we had/You tore it in two/Why’d you tear my heart out?”
Inasmuch as they’re trying for social commentary, The Briefs also excel at writing infectious anthems that tap directly to the conflicted Zen nihilist in each of us—the part that realizes how screwed up the world is but always finds a reason to hope in a rousing chorus. “Ain’t It the Truth” is typically scathing, encrusted with snot and—like everything else on the record—maddeningly catchy: “Things in this world are hard to face/I must agree, I hate this place/The cover-ups have all been shown/We don’t pay no mind, don’t want to know.”
Anthem of anthems on Off the Charts, though: “We Americans.” A healthy disgust for blind patriotism has always been an article of faith in punk and hardcore, but the mix of grim pride and complete disgust that informs this fist-pumper makes it one of the highlights on an album that’s pretty much all highlights:
“We Americans is stupid/We Americans is dirty/We Americans is positive/But we don’t know if we should be/...’Cause we’re better than that/And we’re better than this/And we’re better than everyone else/We got the dollars and we got the sense/And it has always been this way and it won’t change/Hey hey/God bless the fucked-up USA.”