Whenever I watch a foreign actress or actor play an American, I’m stuck on the edge of my seat, ready and willing to throw myself into the cringe oblivion whenever I catch a whiff of a slipping accent. Its part of the reason I’m always a little wary of foreign punk. I love world culture and don’t count myself as xenophobic in the least, but a huge part of music for me is in the voice. Lyrics and the delivery of are my bread and butter and I can’t help but wonder if the artist is able to say everything they want to say when they are using their second language. Can they craft nuanced lyrics in English? Can they deliver them convincingly? Refused can, but there’s a lot that can’t. So, needless to say I was at least apprehensive when I pressed play on French punk rockers Not Scientists’ debut Destroy to Rebuild.
And I’ve got to admit, if I hadn’t known beforehand, I wouldn’t from the album. They murdered the elephant in the room and delivered perfect English lyrics in an accent that is perfectly understandable for english listeners. But because I’m a pedantic asshole, that wasn’t enough for me to get on board. Next up for me was the guitar tone– watery with reverb and trebly and under-distorted, enough to set my ears screaming: “this is different than what I know and I am up in arms.” But, I kept listening anyways. And in doing so, the melodies came out of the woodwork and the songwriting emerged without accent-induced hysteria keeping them at bay. And then I thought about the guitar, and wondered why every band in the melodic punk hemisphere had to be flushed with grit. How dare their guitars sound clean? As if punk was just an assortment of checkmarks and distortion was one of them.
And then something clicked. I was trying to hold a band back for daring to be a little difference, for daring to have their own aesthetic preference. This is when I promptly let it go and just listened to the fucking music. Destroy to Rebuild is a good record, it has the rare tenacity to be able to defy my every expectation and turn them around on me. Not Scientists’ sound resides somewhere in the area of the Lawrence Arms, Hot Water Music, and Hard Girls. Its poppy punk with heart and twenty-something angst played with an emphasis on intertwining guitar leads and vocal melody and harmony. Its good stuff, with enough of an individual voice to take them out of the ranks of competent-but-not-transcendent melodic punk bands.
There’s a little bit of a post-punk thing going on here. The opening chords of “Window” and the twisting leads of “I’m Brain Washing You” sound like something out of Television. The former explodes with energy and when it kicks it kicks hard, angular chords adding texture to pounding drums. Not Scientists’ music is worth a certain amount of engagement, as they seem more concerned than most at creating a sense of texture in their instrumentation. Whenever punk musicians go back to the 80’s for influences, it tends to be American hardcore, so the change of pace is refreshing.
The lyrics consist of a couple of cliches, but if I’m going to hold Not Scientists to the flame for singing about “fucking up,” I have to hold almost every other band in the U.S. to the same standard. The cliche is a result of repetition in the same circular scene, becoming a trope like gravelly vocals. I’d like to see more bands extend themselves beyond these well traveled ideas– it’s gotten to the point that some lyrics are as meaningful as Bad Religion woah-oh’s.
When the lyrics are confessional and plainspoken, they’re at their best. “Tomorrow’s Another Day” is one of the best songs on the album, opening with the catchily sung line: “Don’t wanna be negative, but things don’t look so good. I don’t think this is working.” The song is about something innocuous and almost a little child-like: being positive and getting back up when life knocks you down. How can I claim this song is a highlight of Destroy to Rebuild after condemning melodic punk cliches the paragraph before? Because the music is awesome and the innocence feels earnest and real. They even sing about drowning problems in whiskey (and if there was ever a cliche to overcome “songs about fucking up,” that’s it) but they own it. “Disconnect The Dots” proves the band can write clever metaphors though, and it’d have been nice to see more of their lyrics aspire to that level.
Not Scientists’ music is diverse sounding– crunchy and musical with some of the best choruses I’ve heard in awhile. There’s a sad lack of French punk rock, and for listeners who only know of Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!, I wouldn’t blame anyone for not looking for more. It has problems, but they’re pretty much the same ones we have at home, reminding me that we’re all people and we all kind of suck some of the time. Nevertheless, Destroy to Rebuild is still a killer record, worthy of attention for the musicianship alone.