Music Reviews
Cost of Living

Downtown Boys Cost of Living

(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

It was only inevitable that Donald Trump’s reign would inspire countless artists to battle with sound and fury. But that doesn’t mean that a good majority are up for the task. Providence, Rhode Island dissenters Downtown Boys may look like they’re new to the party, quarrelsome misfits who want to cause an unwelcome stir, but they’ve also earned their place. Even if the Bilingual quintet captured a lot of attention from left-leaning media outlets such as Rolling Stone and Democracy Now!, they had spent the past six to seven years plotting their mark with DIY shows that confront racial and political ideology with incendiary passion. They use rock music as a template given that it’s a good match to channel that rage, but they also politicize it, seeing as it’s a form of music they believe is more diversified than canonical history acknowledges and celebrates.

The increased flattery never gets into their heads, though, seeing as their uncompromising punk anthems are just as critical of the platforms they choose to sell their protest music. The time is right for Downtown Boys to join Sub Pop for their third LP, Cost of Living, a major indie label with a roster that, though categorically known for celebrating underground voices, is greatly made up of predominantly white artists. It’s also a fitting pairing: founded by good friends Victoria Ruiz and Joe DeFrancesco, Downtown Boys’ art-damaged post-punk follows the spiteful theatrics of fellow labelmates Les Savy Fav and Pissed Jeans. They relate to them in how they don’t follow a straightforward punk approach even if they appreciate the benefit of repetition, opting to play fast, unhinged tempos with direct, hard-charging conviction.

Downtown Boys never take a single second for granted. And even if sometimes the words Ruiz shouts out don’t sound as direct as they should, she still compels with her turbulent and wound-up quips. She makes a striking first impression on Cost of Living with the blustering A Wall, an explosive opener where Ruiz references Donald Trump’s harebrained promises on border protection by delegitimizing the mere concept of the wall as this frivolous edifice that exists solely for the purpose of emboldening uninformed bigotry. A Wall sounds just as bold, taking a similar approach to the saxophone-driven hysteria of Full Communism but with a more refined flair. Those schizzed-out sax freakouts are still unleashed with a primal punch, but on a track like Violent Complicity, the attention has shifted to vigorous bass parts (courtesy of newcomer Mary Regalado) and warped, rushing guitars. If compared with their British punk influences, they’re now more in tune with Wire than, say, Crass.

If Cost of Living is meant to provoke, then it usually does through gut reaction rather than clear, intellectual intent. It's also not perfect: it can be a struggle to sometimes parse Ruiz’s message, like in I’m Enough (I Want More), an urgent please on the practice of denouncing injustice that doesn’t immediately connect due to poor enunciation. But most of the time, the missile hits right on target: one of the album’s best tracks, Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), is a defiant call to arms on white supremacy that encourages the voiceless to charge ahead instead of avoiding conflict. Promissory Note - which rallies the calculated hypocrisy of music venue proprietors - is just too contagious to ignore, sporting a big, thumping beat and a stunning sax solo that blossoms into a powerful finish. Fear is not an option for Downtown Boys, but even when they’re dead serious about the topics they bring forth they always do so with freewheeling tenacity.

On Cost of Living’s final interlude, Bulletproof (Outro), DeFrancesco encapsulates Downtown Boys’ mission objective by providing a simple and unifying that, at least for a minute, drowns out all the noise. “So fam / stay beyond woke / stay safe / stay bulletproof,” he reads with a calm gratefulness, advising to his new and old recruits how valuable it is to stay informed. Ruiz is an effective and ruthless firecracker who grills her subjects with no remorse, but she’s also welcoming and receptive to those who speak their mind with courage. Along with the rest of the band, they understand that they can only encourage participation and bolster awareness. The angry punk song may be as antiquated as they come, but there’s also a reason why it never loses its relevance. There will always be something to feel indignant about, and Downtown Boys make every sweat-drenched moment count.