Reading about Angel Du$t before their album Rock the Fuck On Forever was released, the headline for an interview CLRVYNT published with vocalist Justice Tripp proclaimed that the band was “more than girlfriend hardcore.” An odd description, clearly scraped from some misogynist internet detritus, that positively Tripp embraces: “I don’t mind being the girlfriend hardcore band because I don’t want to be the boyfriend hardcore band. I want to be the band that’s okay to like no matter who you are.”
Thus is the tense dichotomy of punk laid bare—the artists must grow or die, and the fans (well, the dudes usually) are often keen to slam the gates and clutch the keys to anyone who couldn’t possibly understand like they do. Angel Du$t, having grown from hardcore resurrectionists Trapped Under Ice among many (many) others in a variety of rock genres, have always sought to broaden not only their sound but their audience, risking small-scene cred for greater musical glory. Their newest, Pretty Buff, turns down the gain and takes off the gloves at the same time.
At first spin, Pretty Buff seems to have lost the heft of the band’s earlier albums. Acoustic guitars and elaborate percussion abut sung harmonies, feeling more California than DC. “No Fair” opens as if with a dare, demanding listeners take Tripp at his word when he said in Kerrang “I don’t want you to like this, I want you to hate this until you love it. I want you to hate it so much and then love it so much and need it.” I certainly took him at his word, having already heard the first couple singles and just not feeling the Monkees vibe. This wasn’t my Angel Du$t, feeling more like a movie soundtrack with early single “Take Away the Pain.” It wasn’t hate I felt, but a kind of deflation. A heartfelt plea that you must love dogs? Where were my pogo jams, the fist-pumpers, the riffs that peeled my face clean off?
And yet, something kept me hanging on. Probably the saxophone in that track, and then that familiar bass in the spine of “Big Ass Love,” with a bit of concrete to it, the coal-hot guitar lick and initial shouts from Tripp leading straight into a summery jam that almost makes me wish I had a car to tool around and blast out with. All of which comes into more linear focus with the rest of the album, where tracks like “On My Way,” “Biggest Girl,” and “Let Me Know” thrum with the higher octane positive propulsion of Angel Du$t’s entire discography, but without the window-dressing of high compression and false volume. Instead Pretty Buff at large begs to be played loud so you can hear more of what they’ve crammed in, winnow about in the crannies of sound, enjoy every twang and tinkle and full-throated horn.
Angel Du$t fooled the old fans by daring each to hate this laser-beam of everything they’ve ever worked towards. And for the new listeners, the barriers have been demolished without really compromising the innate drive of rock ’n roll throughout time. To paraphrase Darius on Atlanta: Girlfriends need to enjoy hardcore, too. Angel Du$t continues to demand that everyone should feel invited. This band rose through the pit but never denied their love of pop and classic rock, not unlike the Minutemen back at punk’s big bang, or bands like the Promise Ring when “emo” was still a bad word. Angel Du$t joins a long line of hardcore-spawned bands that were always too big for their genre, begging you to hate them until your bootie cramps from the instinctual boogie the gang covertly conjures.