cerebral-ballzy

Who likes Cerebral Ballzy? Spend some time reading reviews of the Brooklyn quintet’s eponymous debut album of 2011 and you’ll probably be left unsure. Dismissed by punks as punk for hipsters and, consequently, by said hipsters as punk pastiche for punks, ‘Cerebral Ballzy’ was continually conceptualised as music for other people, other factions, and even – in their indebtedness to early ’80s hardcore – other times. And it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the group: their debut album was snotty and petulant, comprising two-minute bursts of punk-by-numbers with Jackass-like lyrics about cutting class, puking, and sk8ing. Sure, the group’s identity as a gang of spoilt brats might have arisen mostly from considered play-acting, but if it was all just a big joke, then it was about as funny as their woefully misjudged band name.

Enter the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, whose label Cult Records is releasing the group’s sophomore record ‘Jaded & Faded’ this month. According to Casablancas, they’re “the coolest band in the world at the moment, a truly legit modern hardcore/punk band.” So what’s changed? On first pass, not much. The Cerebral Ballzy of ‘Jaded & Faded’ is still just as committed to tempos so fast that, through sheer ungodly persistence, they’ll beat the living daylights out of your stupid, naive hope for rhythmic variety or syncopation. Dynamics, presumably, are for pussies, too; despite a newly expansive production job, these tracks blur together into a single unrelenting outpouring of volume. In short, it’s hard work.

And, what’s more, there’s little by way of obvious payoff waiting once the facade of bland extremity has been penetrated. Lyrically, Cerebral Ballzy are still pretty anti-cerebral, pro-ballz with much of the record being, in the band’s own words, about “being fucked up a lot”. But there is, at least, a hint that all this bluster could add up to something more nuanced on ‘Jaded & Faded’. Maybe it’s a newfound sensitivity within the group or maybe it’s just the absence of songs about vomit, but, taken as a whole, the record can seem to cohere – however precariously – into a sincere interrogation of social and cultural identity. Unlike its predecessor, the album exhibits something approaching self-consciousness, examining what it means to be young, horny, and futureless in a city like New York today. “Save your safety for another day / save your maybes for another day / we’ll all decay another day” goes the album’s opening lyric, the music’s exaggerated bravado betraying, perhaps, an undercurrent of uncertainty.

But maybe I’m going out on a limb there. It’s hard to tell and, to be honest, you’ll probably find yourself hard-pressed to care either way.

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