When Western Addiction plays, it’s like discovering punk rock for the first time. They’re hardcore. They’re SoCal. They’re loud and angry, snide and fun; they blend the spectrum of punk into a catchy, moshable behemoth. It’s been twelve years since since their last full-length though, and now we finally have our follow up. Tremulous is a testament to Western Addiction’s songwriting and musicianship as much as it is a personal album and a declarative statement of what punk rock can be.
While it serves as a suitable shorthand, calling Western Addiction a hardcore band is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not totally unfair, as they do draw the core of their sound from the genre, but there’s something more pure that Western Addiction is reaching for. They are a punk band. They’re a distillation of everything punk rock can be, with background vocals, chugging guitars, screamed dissent, and unrelenting speed. They’re real talent though is combining all of these elements and being more than just a pastiche. Through and through, Western Addiction has their own sound, their own idiosyncrasies that make their music their own. On Tremulous, they introduce more ideas to the mix, as well as maximizing the potential of others. The spaghetti-western licks have taken on a Burdette-borne neocrust tinge, the drums are as insistent as ever, and the vocals still deliver couplet after couplet of emphatic rebellion.
“Clatter and Hiss” opens the album, a classic rager, propelled by riffs and chugging chords. I don’t know how they do it, but Western Addiction imbue the age-old punk vocab with new life. When the guitars palm-mute their way through a progression, you feel like you’re on the verge of something violent, they’re a work of tension. The drums and bass are on the same page, with danceable beats filling even the quieter parts of the song with a nervous energy. Tension and release are a hallmark of their talent– they know when to hold back and they know when to explode.
Tremulous’ greatest strength is that it’s good all the way through. There’s no bad songs here, and the band understands how to write an album. Not all aggressive bands can do this. You have to have the hooks, or else chance it blurring into one angry chord progression. Songs like “Honeycreeper,” a slower, jammier track with a catchy chorus gives the album a bit of texture and keeps the album from sagging in the middle. The relative prominence of vocal melodies on Tremulous is one of the most noticeable instances of growth since Cognicide. They’re tasteful and subdued compared to other Fat Wreck acts though, and do well to add, not subtract from the band’s forward momentum.
The album ends with the most daring song Western Addiction has done to date. A slow song– sung– all the way through. “Your Life is Precious” is a heady breather, a reminder why we’re all involved in this punk rock nonsense in the first place, anchored by a line that’ll touch most any of us: “it doesn’t sound good like music in a record store.” I think that’s where the album’s tell truly is. Music is weaponized art, punk rock is a degenerate’s paintbrush and canvas– an alphabet to spell personal turmoil. Tremulous is a lot of things, but to me, it’s an album for and about the lovers of song; as politicized and angry as it can be; as gut-wrenchingly personal; as loud, brash, and downright fun— it’s a gift to those of us who use music as a bookmark for pages in our lives. For the weirdos and misfits who know how good music in a record store sounds.