‘BLOODSWEAT‘ is an album that comes with the word ‘MATURE’ scribbled on its forehead in black marker. Plague Vendor‘s biography on the Epitaph website claims their sophomore full-length reveals “the sacrifices they’ve made and the dedication they’ve embraced to become the band they’ve become.” The message is: ‘this is a serious band, guys’, different from the one that made the upbeat punk ‘n’ roll of Plague Vendor‘s debut, ‘Free to Eat’. All of which makes ‘BLOODSWEAT‘ sound thunderously dull even before you drop the needle.
Thankfully, the Southern Californian quartet haven’t changed as much as their label would have you think. There are still the surf-via-East Bay Ray guitars, minimalistic arrangements and the garage punk rawness of their debut. However, ‘BLOODSWEAT‘ is noticeably darker in tone than ‘Free to Eat’, with some intriguing Cramps-esque psychobilly flourishes creeping in. The tape echo on frontman Brandon Blaine‘s vocals is especially reminiscent of The Cramps, and is used to brilliant effect on ‘Got It Bad’, exaggerating his hysterical stammering and shrieking as Blaine appears to have a nervous breakdown. Unfortunately, this is as “psycho” as the album gets, and the music simply comes off as more of the same but with half the fun of their first record; ironic, since ‘BLOODSWEAT‘ is literally twice the length of ‘Free to Eat’, despite containing only one track more.
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The lyrics are mostly macho nonsense full of tired blues-rock clichés about “doing 90 on the highway” (‘Chopper’), running from the law (“I’m a wanted man”, ‘No Bounty’) and, uh, pirates (“Sailors and the pirates they walk the plank/ But Davy Jones’ locker ain’t got nothing on me”, ‘Anchor to Ankles’). Presumably, this is to bolster their self-proclaimed “voodoo punk” image which is at best faintly ludicrous, and at worst, another example of cultural appropriation by privileged white musicians.
On ‘Credentials’ the band take a stab at political subject matter – “Fuck your credentials/ We’re presidential” – but do so in an infuriatingly vague manner. The meaninglessness of Plague Vendor‘s lyrics wouldn’t be so irritating if they displayed even a hint of humour or irony, but the band seem so concerned with their image that they neglect to include anything of substance.
Ultimately, ‘BLOODSWEAT ‘ is a fine but unremarkable punk album that is nudged into “bad” territory by its terrible lyrics. The psychobilly touches are an interesting development, but the album is nowhere near deranged enough to draw any real psychobilly fans, while the surf-punk fun of Plague Vendor‘s debut has been replaced by an over-seriousness that may drive away people who were fans to begin with.
‘BLOODSWEAT‘ is out now via Epitaph Records.
This Plague Vendor article was written by Joe Turner, a Gigsoup contributor. Header Photo by Gary Copeland, via the band’s website. Edited by Stephen Butchard.