Album Review: Banquets – “Top Button, Bottom Shelf”

New Jersey-based Black Numbers Records has done it again. For the third time in recent months, I’ve had the privilege of reviewing a Black Numbers release. First The Reveling‘s “Tributaries” quickly established them as my favorite new band. Then Luther‘s “Siblings + Sevens” came along, with an album that hasn’t left my playlist.

Now comes Banquets. The New Jersey band’s “Top Button, Bottom Shelf” earned itself a spot on my still-pending “Best of…” list for 2011 before the first full listen…and despite there still being a few months left in the year.

If you aren’t familiar, Banquets is composed of ex-members of a few other Jersey punk bands, including Static Radio NJ, and play a sort of melodic, rock-influenced post-punk (not unlike Luther, only more polished). “Top Button, Bottom Shelf” is made up of ten high-energy tracks that feature great guitar riffs, great harmonies and great, honest, introspective (and at times self-deferential) lyrics.

Like a lot of the releases I’ve done recently (Luther, The Reveling, The Horrible Crowes), “Top Button, Bottom Shelf” starts with a song (“377”) that is really a stretched out intro. The song takes you up to what seems like it will be the first chorus but cuts off somewhat abruptly, plunging you directly into “Just Me and My Canseco Rookie Card,” itself a catchy, anthemic punk rock song. “Just Me…” and “Forever Bender” contain interesting syncopated beats that keep “Top Button, Bottom Shelf” from feeling like JAPA (Just Another Punk Album) right from the beginning.

“Best of The Night” and “Heads Down, Thumbs Up” are among the more solid tracks (on an album chock-full of solid track), while “Sometimes A Wolf” joins the opening tracks as album standouts. The latter contains enough of a modern rock influence to its uptempo shine that somebody should seriously think about sending the track to Fox Sports or ESPN to use in a football highlight package (seriously…somebody get on this – it would make even golf or WNBA highlights watchable and entertaining).

If “Top Button, Bottom Shelf” suffers from anything, it’s that there isn’t a huge amount of variety among the ten tracks. Most tracks hover around the two-and-a-half minute mark and tend to follow a similar guitar-intro/verse/chorus/repeat formula. That certainly isn’t enough to keep the album from being utterly enjoyable (not to mention prime air-guitar-in-your-kitchen material), however. Give ‘er a listen and tell me its not one of the more solid albums of the year.


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