Rat Beach, the second full length recording from Long Beach punk trio A Broken Line, is, at its core, a punk album laced with elements of ska, a pinch of alternative rock and a lot of heart. By the time the time the opening track hits the first chorus thirty seconds in, I knew I was about to hear a really fun album.
The first five tracks plow straight ahead at full throttle, displaying endless energy and a range of sounds. Of these first five songs, “Placebo”, the perfect opening track, and “Ticking Away” both display all of the hallmarks found in all of the best punk songs. They tear their way into your brain and stick there through infectious vocals, melodies and hooks. “Disconnect” continues the punk tradition with a little bit of grit and angst. Rounding out these five opening tracks are “Garage Door” and “Pier”. Both of these songs retain the core elements of punk but lean a little more toward the alternative rock side, displaying more groove with an emphasis on musicality.
What goes up must come down, and that’s not always a bad thing. After the blast furnace energy of its predecessors, “Old Book” serves as a bit of an interlude. The song features only bluesy slide guitar and vocals, and it is an interesting and satisfying change of pace. The chord changes suggest a hint of melancholy, which perfectly underscore the bulk of the lyrics, which lament that the singer feels like “an old book left out in the rain”. As with every song on this album, the listener is not left with pity for the song’s subject, but hope, as the lyrics tell us that their author is also not giving up hope. “Will I let it put me down the drain? I hope not”. The music then swings back to its opening blues melody.
That thread of positivity and hope is found all throughout this album, and one of the best examples of this is found in the very next song. “Bullet” picks the energy back up again with a great combination of punk and ska influence. The song uses the imagery of a gun and paints a picture of frustration, but as the song nears its middle, the music winds down and the tone changes from a feeling of angst to something that is tender, if not sweet. As the tone changes, it feels as if everything on this album has pointed to this moment, as the lyrics passionately proclaim that “Amazing grace is piercing me, the bullet goes where it needs to be”. It is a brilliant moment and it displays the depth of the songwriting ability of A Broken Line.
As great as the album has been up to this point, the only dents in its armor appear in the next two tracks. I would never think to tell an artist what they should or should not do, but as a listener, it feels like they get away from what they do best. “Promises and Mistakes” is a mid-tempo song that doesn’t seem to go anywhere until it is almost over. Just as the song feels like it’s about to take off, with some thick chords and steady drums, it winds back down and ends. This is followed by “Stingray Shuffle”, a loose, instrumental jam that has a really nice groove and a lot of potential. Even with these positive elements working for it, the song feels almost too loose, as if it were being worked out early in the writing process rather than representing a finished product. I would love to hear a tight, polished version of what they have here, as it is a catchy tune with a lot of groove.
The three songs that follow not only find the band back to doing what they do best musically, but also lyrically. “The Big Rhythm” recalls “That old song about faith and hanging on” and then puts faith and perseverance into action, proclaiming “But me, I’ll never change nothing more than my socks cuz I believe that’s the right way to live. And I still believe in a grand design. I believe in redemption and the need to be kind”. Two sentences from “Waiting Outside” put an exclamation point on bottom line for everything: “And everybody’s building walls and taking stands. But me, I found my way out through the wounds in His hands”. Following “It’s Getting Cold”, an energetic dose of pop punk, the album is closed out with a beautiful instrumental acoustic guitar piece entitled “Zosima”.
The production of Rat Beach does a great job of capturing the genre. The album doesn’t sound like a live concert album, but it does have a very “live” feel to it. Each instrument has its own distinct place in the sound spectrum, giving the album a full, well-rounded feeling while keeping the songs gritty and raw. The bass is heavy, the guitars are thick and the drums perfectly punctuate all of it. It is easy to picture yourself listening to these songs in a hot, sweaty club. As a side note, I would be willing to go out on a limb and say that A Broken Line would be a great band to see in a concert atmosphere.
As mentioned in the opening, this album is full of heart, and the personality of the band shines through the music. By the time the album ends you are left with the impression that you have gotten to know these guys and that they would be a blast to spend some time with. In the end, my first impression of Rat Beach proved to be true. This is a very fun and uplifting album, full of energy, with some surprises along the way. (Thumperpunk Records) 3.5 out of 5 bullets