On the Record: Small Mammal Records and Cat Dad Cassettes release Backtalk’s new album, “Analog Parts”
by Kyle Cochrun
This is an album about guitars. They are always in the forefront, and whether the tones are squeaky-clean, all fuzzed-out or crackling and fizzing like melodic Pop Rocks, they’re always loud and bursting with color.
“Analog Parts” is the sophomore album from the Nü-punk band Backtalk, made up of Jack Johnson (not the Hawaii-born acoustic beach-rock guy) on guitar and vocals and Ryan Brown on drums. The band formed in 2014, but these guys have been playing music together since 2011, and it shows. On “Analog Parts,” the band have found their sound (a 90’s alt-rock meets pop-punk/emo amalgamation, from what I’m hearing) and seem to be confidently altering its components.
None of the lyrics stuck with me after the first listen, and Johnson’s vocals, usually most distinctive when he’s doing a variant of the emo scream, are supplemental to his guitar work, as are the drums. Which isn’t a complaint. This album works.
The distortion in “Simple Rearrangements” gives me that same tingly feeling I get while lying in a room listening to the domineering whir of a vacuum cleaner. (Don’t we all have our auditory fetishes?) Which is to say, it’s pleasant. Melody radiates from within the noise, a shoegaze quality Backtalk pulls off in a way reminiscent of the noisy art-punk band No Age. “Analog Parts” has its murky moments, but Backtalk keep most of their hybrid punk songs sunny, not letting those clouds of feedback blot out the entire sky.
But the most interesting aspect of this record is how the band consistently moves songs in different directions, shifting tempos and stripping back the noise before busting it free amongst the newfound rush.
Take “Weird Flies” as an example. The track opens with fly-buzz feedback before a frizzy guitar melody and drums set the pace at a hot gallop. It slows to a downtempo laze, the overcast skies part and sunshine peaks through. Things speed up again and then abruptly slow back to a Sunday-by-the-pool pace, allowing the guitars space to shimmer until a Sonic Youth-style buildup climaxes to a fast-break finish with the amps cranked up to “blister mom’s drywall.” And then, just as the Red Bull energy surge kicks in, the song ends.
According to their website, Backtalk’s sound is influenced by “the late 90’s emo scene.” I find most music deemed “emo” to be creatively staid, but not this record. Although the formula is simple (guitars, drums, singer + rock songs), “Analog Parts” presents a band that by now is comfortable enough with their sound to start feeling for new crevices, and plenty of similarly constructed groups have made it seem as if there are infinite possibilities to be discovered within these constraints. Backtalk’s next development might be to get the vocals (and that includes lyrical content) to pop out amongst the noise, enhancing the layer that should be tussling for the listener’s focus but almost always loses out to the guitars on an album that isn’t shoegazey enough for the vocalist to be relegated to just another strand in the din. But Backtalk should also continue playing to their strengths by making those guitars glimmer in enthralling new ways and keeping those amps dialed up as loud as they want em.
Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio who is currently hooked on Pavement’s Wowee Zowee. Like that is almost all he listens to right now. It is starting to worry him.