Developing a Theory of Integrity is proof that Red Scare is a punk rock tastemaker. They’re what Fat Wreck was to the scene in the 90s, standing alongside the greats of No Idea and Epitaph as labels with a specific vision of what punk rock should be. I mean, this is a release I only listened to because I saw it announced on Red Scare’s website; one year ago, I’d never heard of MakeWar— now, they’re one of my favorites of the year. See? Tastemakers.
That isn’t to shift all the credit of this release from the artist to the label, but it does bear to mention the “Red Scare Sound.” MakeWar fit in with the lineage just fine, playing heartfelt melodic punk with huge hooks and cherry songwriting. They also have an interesting story, being a band of South American immigrants. But, front and center of Developing a Theory of Integrity are the songs, and it’s the anthemic choruses, with all their wistful and resistant energy that give this release it’s legs.
MakeWar’s lyrical topics aren’t new. Being a twenty-something living an extended and booze-filled adolescence is a well-tread melodic punk trope. But, as with anything, it’s all in the approach. Songwriter Jose Prieto has a knack for imagery that makes his songs about more than just fuck-ups fucking up. And what makes it all work is that he captures the youthful enthusiasm of drinking and partying with friends, and lets tomorrow’s regret creep right along side the empty cans and high-fives. The opening lines of the first track, “Matador Pool Party,” set up the juxtaposition: “Summer is showing her feet, at my doorstep but not coming in. Creeping with sunny flares out my window, while pissing all over the streets.” Even within the scene-setting, Prieto opens us up to the summer and all it’s positive associations, while never letting it become too idyllic.
“Ode” might just be the anthem of the year for me, with perhaps one of the most-singalongable hooks in beard punk history. “I can’t fall asleep, so many demons inside of me, I hope they die, with this shot of whiskey,” is destined to be communally screamed and toasted at live shows for years to come. “Sallie” is another tune made for weekend nights with it’s rallying cry of “fuck nine to five!” With lines like these, Developing a Theory of Integrity coalesces into the ultimate cut-loose album. It’s unapologetically relatable, attacking its cliches with as much gusto as poetry.
It’s bands like MakeWar that keep me in the fold. Every once and awhile, a new songwriting talent emerges and reminds you why you stick around in the first place. It all comes down to recognition. It’s that epiphany in a song, when you’re bobbing your head and you hear that exact couplet that you needed to hear at that exact time. It’s when you recognize a feeling, given muscle and bone through art. Developing A Theory of Integrity is a collection of feelings, as genuine and loud as they come.