Simple. Rock. Good.
If you need three words to describe American Television’s latest five-song EP, “Reaction,” those three words would be the three words you would use. It’s almost novel in an era of pop-punk that is expected to twist as much as it turns while interspersing pleas of aggression that aren’t always needed. And it’s certainly an admirable approach when you consider how today’s scene is a scene filled with over-thinkers who have somehow managed to conclude that the more instruments you use and the more production tricks you learn, the more interesting your band is.
American Television, though? They are just a good, old-fashioned shot in the face that harkens back to a time when you didn’t have to be pretty to be relevant. And these five songs prove that being relevant should always be more about competency than complexity. They kick you in the groin, smirk as you fall to the ground and walk away in their nondescript black T-shirts and regularly fitted blue jeans. It works because it’s good and it’s good because it has no agenda.
The crusade is led by Steve Rovery, whose no-nonsense punk-rock vocals recall the space between Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath and The Offspring’s Dexter Holland. “Just a weirdo in the corner and there’s no one here for me,” he snarls on “Loner” and it’s more in your face than an XFL game being played in the crowd of a Descendants concert. Matt Marinec’s guitar then takes over for an unexpectedly long (ish) guitar solo/riff that proves these guys pack more than just punch.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” is the same catchy riffage on top of Edwin Wikfors’s driving bass line that revs the engine for the set’s longest song. It’s throughout the first verse that Rovery sounds the most like his “Self-Esteem” counterpart, and there’s an energy to his angst that is impossible to fake. Plus, with the help of some tasteful starts and stops that stutter the momentum but never touch its hunger, you have the most complete song throughout all of the EP’s 13 minutes.
Speaking of time, truculence is the name of the game for “Explosions In This Guy,” which runs an appropriately jarring 1 minute and 24 seconds. The lack of chorus/verse dynamic only adds to the song’s abrasiveness, and as the blasting guitar repeats its progression throughout the final 10 seconds, the addition of a few choice “whoa-ohs” allows both the song and the band a welcome pop sensibility, even when they’re at their most hostile.
“Life” then gives the D.C. quartet versatility as it showcases the group’s more tender side. It also allows drummer Bryan Flowers to switch up the beat from straight-forward hard-rock to something more interesting filled with accents and grooves that keep the energy up, but also allow more time for the groove to breathe. It still has the same delicious attitude found elsewhere — “What a life / What a joke / Can’t change the channel / No remote / This is my reality” is a hell of a sequence to build to — but it also puts listeners on notice that there’s something underneath the sweat and half-empty cans of PBR this band embodies.
Just check out set-ender “Collateral,” which even has a bit of swing to it, in order to realize as much. The back-and-forth between beats sums up the band’s creativity and the infectious lead guitar reminds us all that these aren’t just a set of three power chords played ad nauseam. Rovery eventually begins half-screaming the song’s namesake right before the feedback fades and the party ends, but it’s not without leaving an imprint on your ears and your soul.
That’s because American Television is a band that demands your attention, and “Reaction” is an EP that instantly shifts into fifth gear, pushes the gas pedal to the floor, and not once does it let up. The entire purpose of these five songs is to prove that breaks aren’t nearly as essential to the speed equation as most believe they are. Instead, it’s best to just revel in the wind, blasting your hair to smithereens, and enjoy the beautifully reckless journey that inevitably lies ahead.
Simple. Rock. Good. It’s all you need to know.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***