Album Review: Potty Mouth – SNAFU

Snafu

It’s strangely fitting that a song about the distortion of age should fit so neatly onto a punk album.

After all, more than any other 20th century genre – one which was at birth a virtually private Dadaist joke – its children have gone on to manufacture an unkillable industry that seems to be able to regenerate successfully, like a Mohican-wearing Doctor Who.

Not a Taylor Swift cover, 22 is the centrepiece of LA-based trio Potty Mouth’s second album one named, for those readers too lazy to use Google, after an acronym coined during the Vietnam War but which in recent years has become just a proxy for every day on planet Earth. The song itself is far from bubblegum, an examination of the unrequited longing people attach to something they can never have again, tempered then by the knowledge that selective memories are what nostalgia thrives on.

It would be just as easy for the band – Abby Weems on guitar/vocals, Ally Einbinder on bass and drummer Victoria Mandanas – to live a little in the past as well. Formed in genteel Massachusetts at the beginning of the decade, early releases The Sun Damage EP (2012) and their full debut Hell Bent (2013) garnered them a reputation for grounded, self-possessed tunes in a DIY vein. What followed was the kind of entropic industry-related haze that can drive any outfit into the ground, a nightmare of not doing but simply being that’s ground out on the song which bears their former home state’s name.

Something radical was needed, which in this case was a migration from one coast to another, and after pairing with engineer Courtney Ballard the threads of SNAFU began to come together. Working from a catalogue of material built up over their semi-enforced layoff (Smash Hit, a single from 2016, makes the cut), the results are a definitive step forward from their roots, new bombs played with sharp edges and the kind of sonic clarity that gives songs like Plastic Paradise and Liar a suitably nasty growl.

Based on the evidence, California seems to have suited them – particularly the strain of punk which was built on power chords and surf’s-up pop; Gina Schlock of tour mates The Go-Go’s had a hand in writing the almost prodigal sounding Fencewalker, while predictably its descendants – Hole, Veruca Salt, Garbage – are all present here in some form or another.

Weems has described SNAFU’s special sauce as simply, ‘finding the right situation for ourselves’, but mere kismet alone doesn’t account for them hitting a potential motherlode on the glossy Starry Eyes, a tune with a hook so big it seems able to snare catches all the way back to the familiar waters of Cape Cod and one that’s a telescope scan away from their roots.

A change of scenery can take you so far, a change of attitude much further: with SNAFU Potty Mouth have evidently taken the threat of extinction and used it to make them travel light years.

Where they go next should be well worth hearing.

(Andy Peterson)

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