May 22 2013 04:23 PM

Second album finds punk shredders sharper but just as angry

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Retox YPLL (Epitaph)

When Retox charged onto the scene in late 2011 with their debut album, Ugly Animals, the time was ripe for a brutal punk awakening. The Arab Spring had hit a peak, the Occupy movement was taking hold and indie music was in a slump, with softies like Bon Iver and Washed Out getting lots of buzz.

Nearly two years later, the indie scene seems to have gotten wise to the times, with crazy bands like Trash Talk and Death Grips on the rise. But the world is still on fire, so there's certainly a place in it for YPLL, Retox's new album (out May 28).

While Ugly Animals was the sonic equivalent of an anarchist chucking a brick through a McDonald's window—chaotic and exhilarating, if not exactly progressive—YPLL is like that same anarchist finally renting some office space and starting an organization. The ferocious foursome is still angry as hell, but instead of just going for it, they channel their rage with clear-minded precision and a hint of studio polish.

A veteran screamer, Justin Pearson (The Locust, All Leather) shows off his flair for cynical wordplay and throat-shredding style. Drummer Brian Evans, more of an up-and-comer, earns his keep with crashing beats that turn on a dime—"I've Had it Up to Here I'm Going to Prison" finds him traversing a moody tribal rhythm and schizoid cymbal blasts.

The heart of the band, though, is guitarist Michael Crain. A former member of the short-lived (but much-loved) noise-rock band The Festival of Dead Deer, he fills each Retox track with ominous reverb, noisy texture and chainsaw-level velocity. For "Mature Science," he takes a quick break from an annihilating riff to let out a burst of space-age guitar noise—one of many little surprises he embeds to give the record its special sting.

By honing their sound, Retox— who play at The Ché Café on Tuesday, May 28—end up losing some of the urgency that made Ugly Animals so powerful. But that doesn't mean they've lost sight of what makes the world so shitty. If anything, they've developed a clearer picture of the shit—the look, the feel, the smell— so they can mold it better and throw it back in your face.


Email peterh@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.

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