The brilliant Downtown Boys made an absolutely monumental record a couple years back in Full Communism, a hardcore record with skronking sax, righteous politics and an abiding love for Bruce Springsteen. Their new record, Cost of Living, sounds like a structural upgrade to their sound, the lead single "A Wall" more dynamic but no less thrilling. A compassionate strike against the racism and Islamophobia present in American life, it continues the band's necessary fight against what they describe as "the whitewashed world of rock".
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Wasting a sum total of zero time, Downtown Boys’ Victoria Ruiz jumps in and picks up from where ‘Full Communism’ left off: “How much is enough, and who makes that call?” she asks, before supercharging what seems like a rhetorical question with real life fury: “Fuck it”. As the first song on their album, it’s as blunt as impact can be: it’s called “A Wall” and it very clearly cusses out Donald Trump’s racist border non-policy, its chorus both shrugging and screaming at his promise with sleuthing sax and that simple, understated chant: “A wall is just a wall”. It’s stone-cold resistance from a band fully ready to be called our generation’s best punk band.
Where the self-affirming and outwardly enraged ‘Full Communism’ burst forward and never once thought to screech the breaks on its hardcore manifesto, this record tethers its politics to a whole host of dynamics, sounding clearer and more thorough with the same belly of fire. Amidst these longer songs they find time to unfold their sound like never before, with keys and a subtler approach to the sax playing an active role in making this record sound twice the event. Despite these changed songs and their new-found twists and turns, it feels same old Downtown Boys: the chugging, keys-accompanied “Promissory Note” lurches between full-flow and sloshy breakdown but uses that wonderful back and forth between Victoria Ruiz and Joey La Neve DeFrancesco to brace the listener with the same ire.
‘Cost of Living’ still delivers the same catchy as fuck band we’ve heard in Downtown Boys before -- the sax skronk has not disappeared, and neither have those glorious marching drums. Blisters of hardcore and hooks of pop-punk reign over the record’s experimental adjustment in sound. A lot of punks will hear this, which is good, because we need to. With songs about being complicit in systemic violence, oppressive silence and recent affirmations of racism around the globe, this record goes above and beyond the call of what we think of as a “protest” record -- it may begin with an address to Trump, but it’s really protesting the local, everyday privileged and what they owe their communities.
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