Published Jun 12, 2018Melodic garage-punks Culture Abuse have returned with Bay Dream, their sophomore full-length, following 2016's Peach. Perhaps surprisingly, the band have dialled back the rawer, more adversarial tone of their earlier work for their first Epitaph release, grooving more often than rocking here. You'll likely be too busy enjoying the band's continued knack for great hooks and memorable songwriting to notice it though.
A step up in fidelity has come with the shift to Epitaph as well, with engineering, production and mixing credits going to Carlos de la Garza, known for his work with pop punk heavy hitters Jimmy Eat World. It proves a solid match here, smoothing out some of the band's sharper edges, but bringing their melodic chops to the fore. The results often call to mind a slightly grungier version of fellow Californians Rooney and Phantom Planet (one searches in vain for a third Schwartzman brother in the band's lineup), and 15 years ago, many of the tracks on Bay Dream could have easily sat alongside work by those bands in episodes of The OC. (Weezer is an oft-cited comparison as well.)
Like those bands, there's a distinctly California feel to Bay Dream, although perhaps less overt. They largely take a pass on Beach Boys worship, for instance, alluding to the region's soft-rock history via subtle organ and electric piano flourishes instead — more desert scrub than crashing waves. It's tasteful and less obvious, acknowledging certain roots without being immobilized by them. This is certainly helped by vocalist David Kelling's unhurried drawl and amusing lyrics, which very much embody the arch knowingness of 2018.
Bay Dream is a great example of a band living up to the potential hinted at by their early work, and while day-one fans might be turned off by the album's cleaned-up production, it would be ungracious to begrudge a young band their newfound opportunities. Culture Abuse make the most of them here, with an album that should find its way into many a summer playlist. (Epitaph)