Artist: Bitter Valentines
So what makes Bitter Valentines so special? I asked myself that question a number of times over the course of my three-show stint in New York City (Trash Bar, Don Pedro, and Freddy's). Could it be that, despite them rocking Brooklyn venues, the quartet hails from Queens, the NYC borough deemed the "most ethnically diverse urban area in the United States"? (Per Wikipedia, 48% of Queens' 2.2 million inhabitants were born outside the US.)
Perhaps that has something to do with it. After all, what would BV be without the propulsive drumming of Taka (Asian descent) or the powerful punk rock vocal of Der (Spanish/Cuban descent)? But there's tons of bands in Queens' melting pot; so that alone can't account for BV's unique brand of melodic hard/punk rock. More likely, BV's success can be attributed to the fact they know what they're good at: writing catchy songs showcasing Der's singular vocal, built on a locked-in rhythm section (Matt/Taka) and accented by appropriate guitar flourishes (Rob/Der).
First, Der's voice. Two facts: Singers in protest punk emerge if they're credible; Many have accents. Taken together, I'll make the logical leap that, when there's an accent, audiences are more likely to believe these frontmen are singing about struggles existing outside the American dream. It's the reason Blink 182 can sing about Attention Deficit Disorder, but not war. By contrast, Flogging Molly's Irish vocalist could sing about political turbulence in general, and we'd instantly presume he's singing about the Provisional IRA in particular.
Now combine Der's vocal power and credibility with BV's catchy song-writing, and we get memorable vocal hooks like: "Unify" (which was just as cool when I thought it was, "You defy"); "Get up, it’s time to fight" (on "To the Sun"); "It’s just another fucking lie" ("Freedom to Comply"). Case in point: Having a singer with an accent lament America's National Defense Authorization Act and the Patriot Act gets us thinking that, even in this post-9/11 world, there might be valid complaints in the area of recently diminished rights to privacy and due process. So we're nodding our heads when Der prefaces the howl of "It's just another fucking lie" with "Our democracy is a joke / ‘Cause we vote for freedom / 'Cause we vote for freedom, yeah / ‘Cause we vote for freedom to comply." But often, the songs' power will also emanate from instrumental cut-outs that supply Der with space to sneer. Behold 1:04 of "Yesterday," which spotlights Der's vocal through the use of choppy guitar chords and pulsing drums and bass.
Bitter Valentines bring to bear punk rock's loaded arsenal. Fire up the intros to "Facing Angels" and "Freedom to Comply," and note the snaky riffs, prominent bass, and rhythm section interplay, that channel the garage punk of Murder City Devils. Check the pop punk of "Feed Me Cyanide," recalling the radio-friendly hits of Cheap Trick. (Just try to forget that hook: "But I forgot to mention / I could use your love tonight / Got nothing, nowhere to go / So baby feed me cyanide.")
As a fan, I was pissed "She" and "Closing Doors" weren't included. (Word has it they will be included on forthcoming product, e.g. an LP.) But for those punk devotees not yet schooled in the ways of Bitter Valentines, this EP serves as the perfect introduction: Der is the singer to hear before you die; and BV is the band you'll listen to on the way there.
*** The author of this review, Mark Jackson, plays the apinti for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8