"Cost of Living"
Punk rockers Downtown Boys turn up the volume in the fight for social justice on masterful new album
By Nathan Leigh
August 10, 2017
The Providence punks Downtown Boys created one 2015’s most urgent releases with their unassailable Full Communism, and while most bands might struggle to recapture the bottled lightning, Downtown Boys aren’t most bands. Their latest full length Cost of Living builds on the foundation of Full Communism. It fleshes out some of their more experimental urges, while tightening Victoria Ruiz’s shout-along choruses into balled fists.
There’s something of a torch-passing in having Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto behind the desk for Cost of Living. In both their musical experimentation and genuine commitment to DIY ethos and arts activism, Downtown Boys are in many ways the heirs apparent to Fugazi’s legacy. Though his mark is felt in some of the high end guitar noise on “I’m Enough (I Want More)” and the bilingual assault “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas),” elsewhere, he leaves the band space to do what they do best: turn the conventions of punk rock in on itself in service of smashing white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy.
The band’s driving sax and guitar combo remains their anchor, but they mix it up with synths (“Lips That Bite” and “Somos Chulas”) and poignant poetic interludes (“Heroes” and “Bulletproof”). To their credit, Downtown Boys show a remarkable talent for making the new sounds feel like a natural extension of their jagged edged sound rather than a forced attempt at mixing things up. Songs like “A Wall” (whose chorus borrows from Assata Shakur’s “Affirmation”) and “I’m Enough” remind so-called innocent bystanders that in the fight against white supremacy, there’s no such thing. Meanwhile “It Can’t Wait” reiterates the urgency of the fight. In their best moments, “Violent Complicity” and the slow building explosion in “Because You,” Ruiz and company solidify their status as the most vital band in the scene right now.
The album drops on Sub Pop Friday August 11th, and is streaming now via NPR.