I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Penske File when I was starting my first listen of A Restless Symphony. Based on their name, I could tell that they were fans of the sitcom Seinfeld, but that doesn’t really give any hints as to what they sound like. After all, both Night Birds and None More Black make Seinfeld references in their songs and neither band really sounds alike (Could you imagine if Seinfeld-core was a real thing though?) As it turns out, The Penske File plays melodic punk rock not unlike a lot of 90’s punk rock bands, but with a dash of folk-punk (a la Chuck Ragan). The band makes it work although, truth be told, A Restless Symphony could stand to benefit from a larger dose of folk-punk.
The album starts with the 1-2 punch of “Chorus of Time” and “Battered Boat”. The former acts more as an introduction to the album, slowly building from a simple shout along to full band instrumentation. As the track begins to hit its stride, it explodes into “Battered Boat”, which is where the album really starts, showcasing the band’s ability to mesh fast, clicking drums, distorted guitars, and snarling shouts. Track 3, “The Valley”, not only contains all of the same elements as its predecessor, but also throws in a blues harp for good measure. Outside of folk punk and Gorilla Biscuits’ “Start Today”, it’s not too often to hear punk bands embracing the harp but The Penske File not only embraces it- they use it to add another layer to the song, strengthening the track. Unfortunately, “The Valley” is only one of two songs that takes advantage of the harmonica element (the other being “Paintbrush Eyes”). It’s true that overexposure of the instrument might come off as gimmicky, but if you’ve got a secret weapon you’ll still want to use it a couple of times.
The majority of the album follows in the same vein as “Battered Boat”. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s somehow less exciting just knowing that there could’ve been that added ingredient of the harmonica. Tracks like “Black Leather Wallet” and “This Is It…” are both finely crafted songs, but with just a little touch of the harp these songs could’ve been boosted up to a higher tier. It’s amazing to think that such a little tweak could make such a big difference, but without it the tracks never surpass that initial sound established at the very beginning of the album. Again, it’s not a bad thing, but it does give a very “samey” feel to the songs without it. Not every track needs it, the mid-tempo “Steve the Stone” or the acoustic “Wild Youth” both work excellently the way they are.
Overall, The Penske File has created an enjoyable album that sometimes falls flat if only because you know that it’s capable of being so much more. Still, considering that A Restless Symphony is the band’s debut album, it shows a lot of promise for the future. Fans of the Fat Wreck skatepunk sound won’t want to miss out on these guys, everyone else might just want to check out “The Valley”.
PS: You can stream the whole album right here.