The Taxpayers – To Risk So Much for One Damn Meal (album)

The Taxpayers – To Risk So Much for One Damn Meal cover

During my research into this record – a fun process that usually involves browsing the execrable MySpace far more than I’d like – I discovered that the Taxpayers credit a whopping ten people on this record. This goes some way toward explaining just how they’ve managed to produce such a varied record whilst retaining a consistent level of quality and a strong sense of fun. Recording this must’ve felt like ten parties.

A little background: the Taxpayers are from Portland, this is their third record, and it was recorded in various locations including Minneapolis, Portland and – this is my favourite part – a storage crate-turned-practice space and studio in Florida. It’s being released in four formats: a digital download from Quote Unquote Records, on vinyl and CD by DIY stalwarts Plan-It-X, on cassette tape by Tiger Force (so you can play it if you own an old car that has survived this long), and finally as a CD/zine combo by a “novelist/zinester/painter” named Keith Rosson. The band’s submission to me stated that the album featured “bluegrass, ragtime, swing, 80’s hardcore, blues, and a little Springsteen-esque nostalgia.”

In short, it’s nothing if not ambitious. So how well does it live up to that ambition? Read on, behind the cut!

The simple answer is ‘very well’. The closest reference point I can think of for the Taxpayers is Bomb the Music Industry!, one of my favourite bands and coincidentally the man behind one of the four labels releasing this album.

The first track, ‘The Windows Break’, is arguably one of the most immediate and traditional numbers even if it opens up with guitar, drums, mouth organ and brass. Much of the song sticks to the core tools of the punk rock trade: guitar, bass, drums, hoarse-sounding vocals. But even there the band fox expectations: the lyrics eschew a traditional verse/chorus structure, instead pursuing an ambiguously-told story of domestic abuse. It’s followed by ‘And the Damn Thing Bit Him’, built around stabby guitar and 1-2 drums but introducing affecting minor key horns in the chorus – reminding me of the sadder ska-punk tunes of the Arrogant Sons of Bitches.

Clocking in at under a minute there’s not much to ‘Rapid Movements in a Bottle’, but it’s a musically loose song focused on intent spoken-word vocals that recall imadethismistake. Then there’s ‘Everything is Awful’, a far speedier tune which opens with jangly guitars and more melodic vocals – but which halfway through flips into a moment of the promised ragtime / swing (I am awful with classic Americana, I’m sorry – it has the plinky elements of piano ragtime and the slow dance rhythm of swing, if that helps).

In ‘Geodesic Prison Song’ we got some frantic dual male/female vocals over a discomforting song that slowly builds in tension – but which wrongfoots as, instead of crescendo, it simply ends. Not the most satisfying end, but who cares? It’s followed by ‘Louisiana Hot Sauce Rainy Nights’, a bluesy yet upbeat song full of nostalgia and memory: a perfectly enjoyable song but one which after half a dozen listens I still don’t have much to say about. So it goes: let’s instead skip forward (past a couple more solid tunes featuring slices of ska, punk, hardcore and general fun) to another highlight, ‘Some Kind of Disaster Relief’, the most overtly swing-inspired number. It’s a real toe-tapping number that hearkens back to, well, to swing, I guess, but my main reference point for that would be the 90s swing revival. Your mileage may vary, but you’ll probably not care too much for analysis whilst dancing – even if the song’s subject matter is pretty serious, cynical stuff.

Ultimately, there are no significant weaknesses in To Risk So Much For One Damn Meal – those that could be identified are ultimately subjective, from the faint sense of sloppiness, or the imprecise punk rock vocal delivery, and to me represent an aesthetic strength – and given the album’s sense of playful, open-minded experimentation, its consistently entertaining and catchy songs and its overall sense of fun, I can only recommend it. Buy it, download it, whatever. The Taxpayers have shot up my list of bands to watch and I hope that you find the same.

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