It’s been a while since I’ve heard good California-style punk, and Screech of Death certainly fits the bill admirably. Not to knock the local punk scene or anything, but punk in Houston often strikes me as somewhat orthodox in its adherence to influences from the East Coast or across the pond. Bands here aren't paint-by-numbers by any means, but more like they’re building different houses using all the same tools.
The SoCal stuff Screech of Death plays is a little more organic and less rigid, so there’s a definite Stooges and Rancid vibe to everything on their self-titled 7”. There’s room for a nice bit of guitar noodling in and out of the songs from J.R. Delgado. I wouldn’t call them solos exactly. When they pop up in tunes like the title track it’s closer to listening to someone have a very-advanced but still uncontrollable musical twitch. His work is more unleashed than played, and it makes songs unpredictable and amusing.
I’m a big fan of bassist and vocalist Lisafer. First, her bass playing is just excellent. Punk bass is an art, but kind of a hidden art. So many of the legends of the punk genre were bass players and so few of them are ever discussed for their actual bass playing — Dee Dee Ramone is mostly remembered as a songwriter and Sid Vicious for, well, being Sid Vicious. Like most punk, Screech of Death's lines are simple, true, but it’s the relentlessness and not the variety that makes a good punk bass. Lisafer uses her instrument like a tattoo needle, especially on “Run”, and it makes a heart-pounding experience.
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Her vocal style is completely unapologetic. “Rainbow Harbor” is the definite standout here, with its blatant sex and gender politics and utter lack of fucks given about any aspect of human sexuality. She paints a crude but captivating picture of a shoreline strewn with hopeless deviancy, herself included, and croons how very little time or patience she has with anyone who sees anything wrong with her utopia. If Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee was turned into a musical this would be the big production number in the first act.
Screech of Death isn’t breaking new ground or anything on this album, but in terms of sheer sincerity of the California punk style it is definitely refreshing. It’s also exceptionally well-crafted. Even with a running time clocking in just over nine minutes, it’s cohesive and tells something of a story. The departures from in-the-red punk on the B-side give the album dynamics without sacrificing the bite. Either side of the tracks often contain little, unmusical bits of sound and dialogue that makes a listener feel like they’re a part of the action in Screech of Death’s little universe. That makes it a strangely comforting record, as long as you’re comfortable with having the word “asshole” spit at you every couple of lines.
And frankly, it’s just damned nice to hear something that is rude, but not inherently awful in tone and intent. Screech of Death is what I like the most about punk: its ability to say “fuck you” to the people who need to have that yelled at them more.
Screech of Death's record-release party is 5 p.m. Saturday at Vinal Edge (239 W. 19th) with Zero Heroes and Talk Sick Brats.