Plague Vendor’s second album Bloodsweat raises the stakes after an exciting debut, and confirms a very unique but unambiguous first impression they had on me: We need this band. Much of their noise is familiar, following tried and true punk and hardcore templates. But there are also elements we’ve all been long starving for. For decades now, even the best hardcore bands have been yelling and screaming in the same frequency range, more or less. The best you could fairly say about the modern punk sound is that it’s a really cool way to whine.
The first time I heard Plague Vendor, it took about 30 seconds before I realized what I had stumbled onto. It was a song from 2014’s Free To Eat that had a little intro bit. It was all attitude and roughly one chord, as I pretty much expected from a band with a name like Plague Vendor. But then the vocals came in, and they were fucking cocky. Self-assured, dryly witty, and tough. They reminded me of a time when young dudes in bands weren’t just going after your daughter, but your wife, too. I had to go back a whole generation to find bands to accurately compare these guys to. Bloodsweat isn’t perfect, but after a long and steady diet of not quite enough, Plague Vendor might as well be.
Anchor To Ankles opens the album and sets the table, laying out most of what Bloodsweat has to offer technically. The simple riffs are back, but more confident and backed by a tighter and already more mature rhythm section. The lyrics are maybe 50 words, a direct and concise critique of shortsightedness via seafarer’s metaphor: You saw a treasure only six feet deep, you dropped your anchor straight down just to get it. Frontman Brandon Blaine delivers the key line coolly, smooth as an oil slick, before screaming the refrain, just to get it, in his take on that aforementioned hardcore scream. It’s the standard Dennis Lyxzén model, but only one of many tools in his toolbox. On Jezebel, he throws in exaggerated vibrato singing, sharply punctuated occasionally with an ah! or ow!, aping 50s rock like the earliest punk bands would do by nature. Towards the end of the album, during Fire To Emotion, he brings it back in hard, in what seems like a direct punking of Elvis.
Jezebel is an effective track, more single-worthy than the opener, and indeed one of a handful of tracks released in advance of the album, but it’s a three-song block in the middle of Bloodsweat that really sells this band as a great one.
ISUA is one of those songs you can put on loop for longer than most albums run; There’s no getting enough of the hook it opens with: Give me life, give me death, give me something that I’ll soon want to forget… The gatling gun delivery of that third line over a rumbling bass right before the guitar comes back in is a masterful flair, the kind of personal and creative touch we’re more used to seeing from guys twice Blaine’s age, maybe once or twice per album.
Chopper takes one of those guys head-on, sounding sort of a lot like a White Stripes song, blunt as a hammer and childishly simple, feeling over finesse… Except Blaine’s manic bellowing about drugs, sex, nooses, dirt, and duct tape makes pasty Jack squirm a little on that throne. When the breakdown comes a minute and a half in, Plague Vendor delivers another world-class hook. This time it’s the drums and bass that drop out, while a just slightly distorted guitar keeps time for one of the album’s feistiest verses: Where’s your country now? Where’s your countrymen? Where’s your country’s son? Dear God, Uncle Sam.
It’s more than most albums are packing, but it’s just foreplay for No Bounty, which is the album’s apex, despite the punk purists whining over its progressiveness. It’s a short story, or maybe just part of one, overheard in a bad part of town: They almost had me in Texas… Way down in New Orleans… Was stopped in New York City, but my lady and my disguise luckily got between… Yeah, it’s theatrics; these guys are from Whittier, but the delivery on that last line is so surly, so sexy, you can’t rightly accuse this band of faking anything.
As I said, Bloodsweat isn’t quite perfect; There’s a small handful of relatively unremarkable punk songs, like Saturday Night Shakes and (fuck your) Credentials, though I really appreciate the sentiment of the latter. And while I’ve got a favorite part of Giving In, Given Out where the drums cut out for a few seconds for a caustic little guitar riff, and I love the unhinged stuttering preaching that closes Got It Bad, the record ends in a valley, of which there are about as many as peaks. But as I scan the horizon for anyone else equipped nearly as well to bring such potent sex and danger back to rock and roll, that looks less and less like a problem and more like a nitpick.
We need this band. Much of their noise is familiar, following tried and true punk and hardcore templates, but there's a dangerous cockiness we've been long starving for. Bloodsweat isn't perfect, but after a long and steady diet of not quite enough, Plague Vendor might as well be.