The opening lines to “I Wrote (A Suicide Note)” prove that summer has no better mate than a savagely strummed ode to self loathing. The same sun that pushes us outward to frolic has ways of pushing us inwards too, and as I am one of those that miss the cold, grey skies of a proper northwestern winter– I can appreciate a song that juxtaposes a sunny melody with a dark heart.
Do You Respect Me? is the debut EP from Sketchy, a band most of you haven’t heard of, that features members from a variety of bands you probably have (among them the criminally underrated Eli Whitney and the Sound Machine). Sketchy’s sound is a tried and true one– bright sounding punk rock with infectious melodies and crunchy guitars, think along the lines of the Bouncing Souls or Dead to Me and you’ve got it. But where Sketchy won me over was with their lyricism. It’s intelligent, perceptive, and poetic; allowing their music to transcend my flippant comparisons and forge its own identity.
The aforementioned “I Wrote (A Suicide Note)” opens with the urgently sung: “I don’t mean to alarm you, but I wrote a suicide note.” In a way, this sets up a lot of what follows on Do You Respect Me?— smartly written self-criticism packaged in bigger issues. While the song’s opening line is certainly head-turning, and deals with dark subject matter, Sketchy injects small amounts of humor into the song (“the subtext was all wrong, I wasn’t too thrilled with the prose”) and uses it to challenge the hyperbolic nature of first-world suffering.
The next track, “Capitalism is a Drag,” takes a classic punk rock lyrical theme (the government, maaan) and personalizes it. For me, utilizing an old lyrical trope and approaching it from a different angle is one of the more interesting things a writer can do. It challenges what we took for granted, and attempts to change our perspective. On “Capitalism is a Drag,” the narrator feels torn between his desire to not be forgotten by time and the greed-driven machine he doesn’t want any part of, but might not be able to escape. It also works as a commentary on the modern punk, “I’ll forever be destined to underachieve/ Societal constructs make no sense to me.” It’s a quick aside that I think encapsulates a lot of punk culture. There’s a palpable sense that the only way to be immune to corruption is to separate oneself entirely from whatever the ‘system’ is, embracing and lionizing underachievement to validate personal decisions made out of laziness.
“A Faded Face” is a slight change of pace, the music here sounding slightly darker and more mature. It opens with arpeggios and launches into a catchy, but much angrier condemnation of bigotry with a more developed sense of dynamics. “Better Days” is fast and poppy in all the right places. The song is a nostalgia tinged look at the woefully youthful sense of values we all used to carry so proudly, something any punk with a hint of self-awareness can relate to.
Do You Respect Me? closes with “15 Mulberry,” a stylistic shift from the rest of the tracks that draws on the sonic detachment of emo, grounded with melody and big sing-a-longs. This is a song to be screamed with friends– sweaty and unrepentantly in the midst of catharsis. “15 Mulberry” is a good track, but suffers slightly from its vocal performance. While noticeable on most of the release, to varying degrees, one of the singers has a distinctive tone to their voice that is best described as a soulful Kermit the Frog. I personally believe that the beauty of punk rock is that it gives everyone a voice, but I could see some listeners being pulled out of the song because of it. Despite this, “15 Mulberry” stands as a strong track worthy of attention.
Sketchy is one of the most melodically talented bands I’ve seen in recent years. From start to finish, Do You Respect Me? is pure brain glue. For me, however, punk has always been a lyrical genre, and it was Sketchy’s perceptive and piercing lyricism that allowed them to transcend beyond their minor flaws and match their sticky melodies with the gravitas they deserve. Do You Respect Me? is as much a title as it is a question to any prospective listener– but it’s one that I can happily answer with a ‘yes.’