Angel Du$t Pretty Buff

[Roadrunner; 2019]

Styles: melodic hardcore, pop punk, acoustic
Others: Turnstile, Trapped Under Ice, The Adventures of Pete & Pete

“The world is so much bigger than you know,” Justice Tripp promises on “No Fair,” the opener to Angel Du$t’s highly anticipated Pretty Buff. Such a proclamation appears to be the mission statement for the poppy melodic hardcore supegroup as of late, be it in their decision to tour with head-scratchingly dissimilar artists like Wicca Phase Springs Eternal and Bugg, or in their jarring approach to Pretty Buff’s sound. Jarring, of course, if you’re familiar and accustomed to the straightforward, no-frills, crisp songwriting of Du$t’s last two records, A.D. and Rock the Fuck On Forever. Their world has certainly expanded. With a longer length, cleaner mixing, and newfound fixation on acoustic guitars and esoteric percussion, Pretty Buff finds Du$t eschewing the conventions of typical hardcore and embracing the sunny side of experimentation.

Tripp has claimed that their songwriting process begins with acoustic guitars, but there is no scrappiness here nor are there unrealized ideas. As per Du$t’s usual method, both the hooks and the songs conclude just as they’re getting good, leading to heavy replay value. Some songs have the air of an unplugged hardcore track, but Angel Du$t never let it be so simple. Take, for example, the single “Bang My Drum”: where the song might be expected to feature guitar, a saxophone instead fills in where an electric would’ve been, all amidst a power-pop bounce. Or take “Big Ass Love,” which teases a spiritual offshoot of “Toxic Boombox,” or “Push,” with a gang-vocals prompt delivered with a whisper, something that couldn’t be accomplished while fully plugged. Given the aesthetic departure from what made Angel Du$t so beloved, it’s quite the risk to release such an experiment on a more “mainstream” label (and that it isn’t self-produced is a risk of its own accord). But it works nicely here, because regardless of their artistic shift, Du$t retain what makes them special.

Part of what makes them special is their knack for intensity and catharsis, which they bring to Pretty Buff. Given their history in the genre, the group knows what makes a hardcore song work: when to go fast, when to have a breakdown, when to solo. And even though the record has a longer runtime, it’s never out of attempting to abandon those principles. It sounds more like a band finding balance by enjoying their newfound toys but also knowing when to let up. And even within this new soundscape, they find ways to make things fresh. “Take Away The Pain” somehow tightens the already stripped-down method, minimizing the percussion to a long tambourine shake, the voice rarely ever going above a hushed croon. It’s emblematic of the power-combo approach, of a band working together to create a wall of sound while each member contributes their distinctive talents. They’re taking cues from the 90s too, with a jam sesh (“Park”), a sitcom theme (“Biggest Girl”), the jangly sounds of Sister Hazel (“Want It All”), and various other signposts of the era somehow crammed into their unpredictable approaches. But Pretty Buff is not simply a throwback; it’s using a beloved and way-too-mined past to accentuate the present and outline possible futures.

Angel Du$t, already a difficult sell by having a currency symbol in their name, aren’t afraid to put their listeners through various other tests. A rigid view of masculinity as a hetero-centric one will not look kindly on the band’s promo photo, which features band members grasping onto each other’s legs. Then there’s the silliness of their promo clips and their artwork. But if you’re willing to grin along and embrace it all — including the cameo of triangle percussion — that’s all the band can ask for.

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