We generally think of punk as a youthful genre, its politics and frustrations so frequently rooted in a young person’s black and white view of the world. Punk bands that don’t burn out pretty quickly lose their rep and become jokes, sad has-beens never maturing, rolled out for tragic Warped Tour appearances. That’s not how it has to be though. There is a different rage that happens in middle age, when the frustration with the world isn’t coming from a need to change it based on strict ethics, but to fight against the resignation of age and wisdom. That’s the perspective Wimps bring to Suitcase, their new Kill Rock Stars album, a frank, cheeky examination of the “Middle Ages,” as one of their songs cleverly phrases it, the dark times when we realize we’re at a point in our lives when the world will never change to match your ideals and the people who still think that way just bum you out.
The bulk of Suitcase is devoted to disappointments, but not necessarily self disappointments. A lot of the lyrical focus is on the way things never change and how youth culture is never as progressive as the people within it think. “Old Guy” perhaps articulates it best as Rachel Ratner, formerly of unflinchingly juvenile punks Butts, sings “Yes, I’m the old guy/At the party/All right/All the stuff you’ve done/I’ve seen a thousand times before,” articulating the cyclical nature of rebellion. Ratner doesn’t deliver the line with a condescending tone, but with friendly exasperation, encouraging the younger crowd to stop focusing on being “new” and instead embrace that familiarity and maybe give their elders a listen or two. That’s followed by “Capitol Hill,” a bitter ode to the perennially hip Seattle neighborhood which Ratner asks “Remember when you were mine?/We’d stay up late doing/Line after line after line,” reminding the kids that their digs are built on the bones of discarded dreams from those who came before and also a shitload of coke.
Musically the album expresses the same reflective anxiety, keeping a brisk but not breakneck pace, with ample elements from Dave Ramm’s previous band The Intelligence getting brought into the mix. Opening track “Vampire” hops from more experimental drum fills to garagey guitar and repetitive declarations of “I’m a vampire,” but usually the music is less frenetic so that Ratner’s vocals can take to the forefront, like “Couches,” where Ratner’s shouted vocals are flanked by stop start rhythms and herky jerky guitar. The title track utilizes surf guitars and post-punk leads to ramp up the anxiety, with Ratner singing about escape, a need to pack it up and get the fuck out, the flight response by no means exclusive to hormonal youth with Y Tu Mama Tambien road trip dreams. The bridge perfectly sums up the lost feeling you get in adulthood when you try to hatch escape plans though, as Ratner realizes “Forgot my underwear/Forgot my socks” and then the song just ends, unfulfilled, like runaway plans tend to do.
The high point is arguably the aforementioned “Middle Ages,” though. Opening with Ratner’s admission that her “Back hurts/Feet too/Don’t know/What to do/Get old/You’re screwed” the song proceeds to speed up, the lyrics questioning adult problems and plans hatched to fight them, climaxing in a simple but perfect chant of “Middle age!/Middle Ages!” There is also something to be said for the out of nowhere weirdness of “Modern Communication,” beginning as it does with some ghostly electro before morphing into skeletal guitar and “woo-woo” sounds that we are told is the “sound of a conversation,” like a mythical adult-with-their-shit-together figure lecturing the band Peanuts-style. You can read a lot into that line and the sound that accompanies it; it could be a statement about how all talk is noise now, or it could be commentary on how sometimes it becomes harder to understand one another the older we get, or flip that and view it as a formerly Cool Young Person suddenly realizing they don’t know what the fuck kids are talking about these days.
Which cycles back to that opening conflict, the view of punk as exclusively the game of the young. Wimps aren’t your normal punk lifers trying to masquerade as still somehow dangerous, they make no attempts to hide their age or lack of cool cache. It’s not that Wimps embrace the inevitability of old age, they’re still fighting it, but by being honest about the anxiety it brings and their detachment from the indie rock rep game, aren’t they somehow even more punk? After all, what’s more fuck you than saying “I am an old fart, deal with it, I know shit you can’t even begin to understand?”
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover