Dirty Tactics – It Is What It is

Dirty Tactics - It Is What It Is coverA moment of serendipity: a couple of weeks ago I swung by a show to catch Welsh punk trio Bangers and also endded up seeing Philadelphia’s Dirty Tactics. Their intense, hard and melodic hardcore punk rock and varied songwriting impressed me and I bought their new album and split 7″ with Bangers. Two days later I received an email from Flix Records asking if I’d be interested in reviewing said records. I’d not mentioned the show or the records anywhere on here; it was just a pleasant coincidence.

Anyway, Dirty Tactics are composed of ex- or current members of Finished, Restaurations, Giving Chase and Highlights, including an ex-roadie of One Man Army; a band with some punk pedigree. It Is What It Is constitutes their second full-length release, following on from ’07’s Love is Dead, Art is War.

The record opens up with a clip from an old interview with punk rock alumni The Clash: “Why do you think punk rock started in the first place?” “…it’s got nothing to do with them any more. And like, Rod Stewart gets up there and starts going on with the string orchestra… it’s not what you feel like. You’ve got to have music what you feel like. Otherwise you go barmy.” “I think their attitudes really stink anyway. There just has to be new groups and that’s what you got.” It’s a fitting excerpt for a band set on forging their own identity within the over-saturated (wonderfully over-saturated, but still) genre of melodic punk rock.

For me the pinnacle of the album is ‘Secret Lives’. It opens with a South American-sounding ditty and what I think are Spanish vocals – I don’t know anything about Hispanic or indigenous South/Central American music unfortunately – and kicks into a fast-paced punk tune with doleful yet energetic vocals. It culminates in fantastic chorus vocals that highlight the interplay between the band’s multiple singers, who are capable of expressing distinct vocal identities both when singing and when pushing their vocal chords to the gruff limit. The plaintive line “Does anyone know what goes on in my life?” is interjected with shouts of “Does anyone know”, a call and response structure that… look, I can’t pick it apart critically, it kills me and I love it especially with the jangling guitar and nonstop bass and rattling drums underpinning it. It’s awesome.

Another highlight is ‘Side of the Road’, a track of thumping drums and guitars which opens with another short, mournful-sounding acoustic and South/Central American tune (MAN, I wish I knew what to say about those bits, at least to the point of being able to accurately describe them). The song focuses on the well-worn subject of soldiering on through misfortune – such as the all too common breaking-down of a van – and the juxtaposed attitudes of envy and contempt toward more commercially successful bands, culminating in these fantastic lyrics:

It must be nice to have ushers and riders and deli trays and whatever else they get served.
The music gets played and they all get paid but I guess that’s what they deserve.
And the band that plays for a grand a night would probably just buy a new van tonight
But I guess they deserve it, the music’s more worth it and they know someone who knows someone!

So: fuck what you heard about the punk rock world
Because there is such a thing as guaranteed, it’s a rich get richer mentality.
So we’ll stay on the side of the road, stealing what we need to survive
‘Cause we don’t deserve the beer or deli trays tonight…

‘Arkansas’ and ‘Blind Man’ demonstrate the band’s ability to write a mellow and simple yet catchy tune which brings their lyrical flair to the fore. Then there’s ‘Highway Robbery’, which is reminiscent of Fake Problems with its jaunty tone and tongue-in-cheek delivery. In fact, the two bands are similar in that they both marry a playful and witty approach to an underlying seriousness. Both bands joke around a lot and have plenty of fun and whilst their starting point is the punk rock mould, they’re both enthusiastic about finding ways to build on it or step outside it.

Dirty Tactics are definitely a band to watch – they’re touring Europe right now so catch them if you can – and this is one of the best punk rock albums I’ve heard so far this year.

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