Against Me and the Epoxies both play punk-informed “protest” music for Fat Mike’s Fat Wreck Chords label, but that’s about all they share. At this point punk stretches far enough to encompass way more than just AM’s spewed hyper-verbiage and the Epoxies’ tongue-in-cheek sleekness; at this point also, I despair of any punk finding the right audience to mount an effective protest. But hey, the kids have arisen before! And should they/we decide to rise again (damn right!), Against Me’s Tom Gabel provides one hell of a unifying group sing-along with the “Condoleezza” chorus of “From Her Lips to God’s Ears (The Energizer),” just one of the many songs he titled for your pleasure on Searching for a Former Clarity.
Gabel has an Alanisian knack for shaping word overflows into succinct pop structures, like magma into Jell-O molds. His structures don’t get much more elaborate than verse-chorus-verse, and he rhymes only rarely, so the effect is conversational—and he’s a bitchin’ conversationalist. Funny, artless, employing offhand profanity and exclamation points and words not often associated with pop, Gabel’s lyric sheet is a wonder.
Take this half-verse from the war protest “Justin”: “You know Justin? Well, Justin’s dead. Yahoo won’t let his family have access to his e-mail account.” Gabel goes on to quote the forced holiday cheer of a smoothing- over TV reporter. It’s a rare combo of righteous wit and blunt anger that’s not too full of itself. Allmusic ominously describes AM as “punk-folk,” but they’re saved by the facts that Gabel’s hoarse scream can make anything scan and that he and his bandmates consistently find hooks. They even bust Franz Ferdinand–style punksco beats on two anti-industry tunes, in what may be the first parodies of that genre.
The Epoxies are all parody. On Stop the Future they play X-Ray Spex–style pop-punk with “futuristic” synth lines replacing the sax, and the cheeriness offsets lyrics that are consistent downers, raging against machines literal and figurative. When the things you’re protesting are mind-controlling capitalist illuminati and radiation in TV sets, you’ve either: (a) seen more deeply than most of us; (b) read too many Paco Underhill and Chinese medicine books; or (c) made the whole shit up. They play it totally straight, though; Roxy Epoxy boasts an impassioned yowl that’s Poly Styrene meets Pearl E. Gates, and her great drummer, Ray Cathode, hangs on every word with a seemingly endless arsenal.
In many ways, these two discs complement one another. The live spontaneity of Against Me’s lyrics shows up the predictable 1-2-3 Epoxy structures, but the Epoxies’ complete lack of bad tunes highlights a couple slow AM clunkers. The Epoxies have an instrumental, a couple love songs, and a ’70s Scorpions cover (“Robot Man”); AM’s novelty springs from inventive griping and sardonic verse-chorus contrasts. Today I prefer Against Me because I feel like getting inside someone’s head, but tomorrow I may need the pure wham-bam entertainment of the Epoxies. And if their social concerns end up inspiring no more than their great music, I’d still say both bands have done their part.
Against Me and the Epoxies play Webster Hall December 2.