Deals, Deals, Deals is probably my favorite surprise of the year. I’d seen Ramona before, I’d even liked them before, but their Red Scare debut is something special. They have the songs, they have the hooks, and they have the words to make it more than just a party. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with what I actually I want from punk music. So much of it is trying to be something else—either a clone of a clone or a knowing throwback to when clones ruled the indies. Ramona is different. Ramona feels like a natural intersection of a group of close creatives; Deals, Deals, Deals is defined by songwriting before genre, and where the songs go, the sound rightly follows.
Which isn’t to say that Ramona is making music outside the confines of genre. This is melodic punk, or maybe indie punk. It’s bouncy and catchy and plaintive when it needs to be. The power chords are thick and chuggy and they form the blocky backing track to the band’s dueling vocalists. But, the fact that Ramona is a three-piece makes their music feel all the more intimate, listening to Deals, Deals, Deals, I couldn’t forget that these songs, as personal as they are, were forged from the fires of three close people. It goes a long way to capturing a certain tone, of raw conversations and comfortable clashes.
The album opens with “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Hearts,” which features some slice-of-life relationship storytelling delivered with emotional gusto and supported by some meaty hooks. Where a lot of pop punkish bands lose their way is with their arrangements, but Ramona dodges this common misstep with thoughtful changes in their playing, specifically their drumming. I don’t often notice drumming in a song, because I’m a rhythmless philistine, but they use it here to great effect to control the song’s dynamic. “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Hearts” becomes a full-throated, danceable singalong with a positively insistent energy.
On “Not Your Token,” we get to hear a really cool lyrical perspective as well as some Lawrence Arms-style duet singing between the two vocalists (who I wish I could name, but all the information I’ve found is the first names of the three members, and not what they do). The throat shredding call of, “I’m not your token, I’m a fucking person,” is the kind of punk rock line I live for. It boils down the sentiment to a single statement, direct and in your face. More structurally, the song is a grail of hooks, where the entire run time feels like a big singalong chorus. “We’ll make a difference, we’ll make it better, with or without you,” might just be punk’s logline for years to come.
“Is This Emo?” is one of the other highlights of the album for me. It’s an incredibly frank, personal song about self-perception and it reminded me of that uncomfortable frisson I first felt from bands like AJJ and Against Me! It was that sort of confrontation via talk therapy that initially pulled me deeper into the genre, and it’s bands like Ramona, with their fearless navel-gazing, that keeps me there. Deals, Deals, Deals! is filled with these trauma-narrative-cum-pop-songs, and it makes it for an involving, resonant listen.
The album ultimately has a message of hope, as “Mambo 69” concludes: “you can build your own family, be the person that you wanna be.” Deals, Deals, Deals! uses punk rock as a vehicle for self-improvement, as a means to stare the bullshit in the eye and see it for what it is. It’s about acknowledging the worst and then striving for the best. Ramona accomplishes their goals with the finesse of scene veterans, and they do it with some of the best music I’ve heard all year.