Album Review: MxPx – “Acoustic Collection”

MxPx has been a prominent player in the punk scene since the mid-nineties. In recent years, however, they have slowed down. Guitarist Tom Wisniewski and drummer Yuri Ruley have retired from touring full-time in order to be family men and take day jobs. They remain in the band to record and perform the occasional weekend show, but, when MxPx goes on a tour of any length, most of the band is unrecognizable.

This is common. Musicians leave their bands for a variety of reasons, but the arrival of babies and the need for a steady income are two of the bigger ones. Remaining members are left to pursue side projects to fill the time between sporadic appearances that keep the premium brand name relevant.

Frontman Mike Herrera must have seen this decrease in MxPx activity coming. Despite numerous side projects – The Cootees, Arthur, and currently Tumbledown – Herrera has increasingly been performing as a solo act. Soloing has gone well for him, and has included a stint on the Vans Warped Tour Acoustic Basement in 2014, as well as three digitally-released live albums. These performances include a mixture of MxPx and Tumbledown songs with the occasional cover.

In 2014, MxPx released Acoustic Collection, an album of twelve stripped down and, in some instances, transformed MxPx songs. This is not an acoustic album of their greatest hits – you won’t find “Chick Magnet” or “Responsibility” here – but included are fan favorites “Doing Time,” “Tomorrow’s Another Day,” “Secret Weapon” and “Punk Rawk Show.”

That said, this feels more like Mike Herrera’s first studio solo album, rather than a full-band effort. Tom Wisniewski is listed in the credits only as “additional vocals on Punk Rawk Show,” while Yuri Ruley shares that credit, and is also one of three listed under “Percussion,” – Bradley Miranda is listed for “Drum Set.” That the songs were all previously recorded as MxPx songs helps distinguish it from a Mike Herrera solo album.

Since 2009’s laudable Left Coast Punk EP, MxPx has been mostly DIY, recording in Herrera’s own Monkey Trench Studio, and releasing music on their own label, Rock City Recording Company. As producer, Herrera resists the temptation to overdub out-of-place extra instruments, as so many punk rockers like to do with their solo albums. There are no violins, cellos, flutes, accordions, or harmonicas here. Keys are listed for one track, but they are barely noticeable in “Buildings Tumble.” Even the auxiliary percussion is used sparingly; the shakers in “Doing Time” are audible without being distracting. And while Herrera went overboard harmonizing with himself on Plans Within Plans, the band’s last full-length album, here he lets the melodies speak for themselves, with vocal harmonies limited to three tunes performed by “Agent M” Emily Whitehurst (formerly of Tsunami Bomb), who had previously lent her voice to the band’s On The Cover II.

Surprises include new and additional lyrics on the final refrain of “Doing Time,” as well as the transformation of “Drowning” from possibly the fastest song on 2007’s Secret Weapon to the slowest here, and, at the conclusion, the most laid back rendition one could imagine of “Punk Rawk Show,” the band’s long-time anthem.

This album is particularly refreshing after the band’s only other official acoustic release, the mediocre AC/EP. And, because this is a full-length, it serves like a retrospective of MxPx’s career, including songs from their most recent album and spanning all the way back to 1995’s Teenage Politics.

Acoustic Collection really showcases the strength of Mike Herrera’s song-writing ability. While fans will take the full band any day of the week, they will also delight in the latest effort from MxPx, still kicking since 1992.

4/5 Stars – Listen below.

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