By Rory McArthur (@RoryMeep)
Together Pangea have never quite received as much appreciation as they deserve. Despite touring alongside the likes of FIDLAR and Ty Segall over the years, the Californians haven’t quite reached the levels of success enjoyed by their better known contemporaries, flying relatively under the radar for the majority of audiences. Whatever the reason for this though, it certainly doesn’t concern the quality of their output. From the screeching punk of 2011’s Living Dummy to the frenetic, shout-a-long anthems of 2014’s Badillac, the band are responsible for some of the most underrated garage rock music of the last few years. Specialising in tracks seemingly tailor-made for teenagers to crowdsurf at house shows to, there’s always been a certain charm to their refreshingly simple approach to songwriting.
So the question is, does their latest offering, Bulls and Roosters, hold up to what’s come before? The answer, unfortunately, is not the resounding yes we were hoping for. Rather a lukewarm, ‘kind of’.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that this album is not a continuation of the sound TP have previously dealt in. Gone are the big, deafening guitar squalls and the vocal cord shredding shrieks; in their place is a much sunnier, more restrained style. And for the first half of the album at least, it’s a stylistic shift that works wonders. With a newfound focus on melody, about 6 or so of these tracks are gems. On the joyous opener, Sippy Cup, the foursome show that they’re fully capable of retaining the endearing energy that made their previous releases so enjoyable, while also moving in a new direction. The track revels in a refusal to grow up, with vocalist William Keegan gleefully crying, “I got my sippy cup, you got your wedding gown” without any degree of cynicism. While keeping up a brisk pace, the song trades distortion and frenetic guitars for something palpably less abrasive, with the pogoing lead line sure to get crowds jumping along in unison. It’s a truly great track, and one that sets hopes high from the second you hit play.
And for a while such hopes come to fruition. The album subsequently keeps up a steady run of similarly feeling tracks, running through a whistling solo on The Cold, some shaky lead guitar on Kenmore Ave and some delightfully sun-kissed solos on Money on It. But it’s the slick, almost classic rock-esque vibe of Gold Moon that serves as the centrepiece and highlight of the record. Easily the most immediately satisfying of these 13 songs, the track breaks the established tone with a 2-minute shot of bubbling intensity that easily holds up to the best of the bands discography. It’s new territory for the band but it’s handled deftly, and it caps off a genuine belter of a first half.
Unfortunately, the album loses its way on the second half and it loses it badly. In fact, it’s actually quite difficult to describe why the latter tracks don’t work as the majority are so nondescript they don’t stick in the brain enough to produce a reaction. Only a few have the distinction of being notably bad, but the rest just go in one ear and right out the other. The twangy guitar line from Blue Mirror (a highlight of 2015 EP, The Phage) is recycled on the, presumably, sequel song Peach Mirror. And to be frank, it falls totally flat. A great riff is consigned to the background for most of the song and just makes you pine for the original, rather than providing a fresh spin. The whiny chorus refrain of, “lost, lonely and high / lost, lonely and high” is equally irritating, succeeding only in being cringe inducing rather than melancholic.
Stare at the Sun similarly fails to impress, with its bouncing riffs coming off as a cheap knock of The Cure, ultimately just feeling uninspired. Thankfully the buzzing blues of Alison end the album on a high note, but sadly that one final spark of quality isn’t quite enough to make up for half a record’s worth of forgettable tunes.
And that’s just the way to describe Bulls and Roosters: a true album of two halves. While the first half succeeds as a fun, summery, slight shake up of the band’s sound, the other just fades into the background. It’s an incredibly frustrating verdict to have to give, but sadly it’s an unavoidable one as well. Certain tracks show glimpses of the band who wrote such fantastic songs like Snakedog and Offer, but they’re all too rare for this album to be considered a real success. It’s with sadness, then, that it must be said this album is a disappointment. There’s plenty to enjoy here, and a fair few tracks deserve generous praise, but the sheer amount of filler makes it likely they’ll be lost in the murk as soon as the curtain falls. So not quite the super-continent sized success we’d hoped for, not by a long shot.