“So let me ruin my guts tonight” sings Dylan Slocum as Spanish Love Songs’ latest full-length, Brave Faces Everyone, kicks into gear on album opener, “Routine Pain”. The preamble is filled with self-effacing lyrics that see how much “lower (he) can go” as it sets the tone for a set of songs that the LA-based quintet can look upon as their own official tour-de-force setting out their stall as one of punk’s leading lights heading into the next decade. And no, that’s not hyperbole. The band manages to fill the gap between the pleading urgency of early Menzingers and the poetic fissure left by the disappearance of the Weakerthans. Brave Faces… sonically has more to do with the former than the latter but the co-mingling of these elements cannot be ignored.
Third track, “Generation Loss”, is a banger in the vein of the very best that Gaslight Anthem ever offered up that promises to keep this album high on the list of most punk fans throughout big festival season and keep the album alive well into the time of year that opinionated people like me look to fill out our year-end “best of” lists. But more than that, much more importantly than that, Spanish Love Songs land uppercut after uppercut that connects melodically and lyrically with a generation looking for something to claim as their own even as they blame themselves for the larger failings.
One of the things that I look for, having grown up in the highly provincial scenes of ‘90s Washington, D.C. and the deeper underground of the criminally underrated Southern punk scene of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, is some kind of regional touchstone. However, with Spanish Love Songs, it’s nearly impossible to tie them down to some generic vision of Los Angeles. Perhaps the references to extremely expensive heroin addiction on “Kick” hint at it in a way that the Germs never could or the lackadaisical malignancy of the indignation shown on “Beach Front Property” could bring us back to their California home but even then Slocum brings us a universal sentiment in delivering the lines “You’re singing sad to thirty-somethings in a bar/”Play us some nostalgia songs/Cause no one really wants to hear about you anymore.”” If that doesn’t sum up much of the modern consumption of punk music, I don’t know what does.
More than anything else, though, Brave Faces Everyone is an album about triumph in the persistent face of mediocre, daily tragedies. We are to find unity in being “losers forever” while singing together, loudly and jubilantly to Slocum’s observations over the expertly woven background of guitarist Kyle McAulay, bassist Trevor Dietrich, drummer Ruben Duarte and keyboardist Meredith Van Woert who provide the perfect accompaniment to his defiant pleas “don’t take me out back and shoot me/I know my circuits are faulty” on “Optimism (as a Radical Life Choice)”, the title of which may as well be the band’s mission statement.
But here’s the thing about this album, it spends the bulk of its 40 minutes weaving tales with passion, persistence, and aplomb in a way that so many bands will be playing catch-up trying to equal over the course of this year and possibly beyond. It’s not necessarily that the band are breaking new ground but the combination of Mountain Goats-inspired delivery and lyricism (and believe me, if John Darnielle had a punk band, this would be it) with their style of punk leaves them at the top of the very early heap of 2020’s punk releases. It makes it all the funnier that they lead it all off with “I wanna see how much lower we can go” which is to say, probably not very low at all even if many, if not all, of us identify with the sentiment.
Brave Faces Everyone is available now via Pure Noise Records.