Here’s a hell of a tour: The take-no-prisoners, out-of-flips-to-give aesthetic of Baltimore’s Santa Librada, whose debut LP was featured here only a handful of weeks ago, and Frederick’s own The Xiles, a deliciously snotty teenage punk rock quartet that actually will remind you why The Clash kicked so much ass when they first started out. Grab the combat boots, slip into those black jeans and get ready to sweat. If this anarchist’s dream tour ever came true, it’d leave cities burning one sneer at a time.
Naturally, this is why The Xiles’s debut EP, “No Comply,” is so irresistible. Rarely these days does punk rock connect in the way it was always meant to: Youthful angst and ignorance combining with a kind of self-loathing confidence that provides the necessary aggression and authenticity needed to make the music so imperative. It’s novel in its simplicity, its straight-ahead, no nonsense approach to both message and performance. Fall Out Boy care about candy. The Xiles care about corruption.
Which, of course, makes them wise beyond their years. “I’m Fine,” perhaps the most confrontational track here, features multiple spoken-word interludes from singer Zephyr Henderson, who is a star in the making. Part of the secret to being a lead singer is an unabashed willingness to GO FOR IT, and while most kids similar in age might be reluctant to let loose, this guy embraces the spotlight, holding nothing back and gripping your attention with the heat of a thousand suns. By the time the bridge comes and he demands answers for why he got passed up for a job, you almost want to call the prospective employer yourself and make a case for why not hiring him isn’t a great idea.
The title track validates as much, too, when he asserts, “blood on my hands, blood on my knees” to kick off the second verse. Led forth by Samantha Wallace’s opening bass riff, it’s the best — and the snarliest — song here. Repeating the title with vigor and rancor does them favors as well, Henderson jamming the words into the listener’s head without remorse. It amounts to a disregard for rules, let alone authority, and somewhere, you gotta think Joe Strummer is smiling.
Another grin might come across another face — Billie Joe Armstrong’s, to be exact — with “Democrassy,” a song that ultimately proves the band’s weight in gold … or, well, leather jackets … more than any other track here. Yes, it’s a lot of the same gruff vocals and driving tempos, but what sets this particular moment apart is the group’s knack for harmony and melody. The hook here is classic ‘90s grunge/pop-punk and it begs the question: Whatever happened to this kind of stuff, anyway? It’s one thing to shout and stammer over echoes of electric guitar; it’s another to understand the value of tune. These kids do. And that’s impressive.
Still, that doesn’t entirely make up for the very inevitability that comes with this genre of music: unapologetic repetition. Nobody’s trying to win musicianship awards in the punk rock world, and while that’s a fine rule of thumb by which to live, it can occasionally make for a boring, if not uninteresting, listen. The notion of “not doing what I’m told” pops up in multiple songs here — so much so that you almost want to grab Henderson and tell him, “Good for you. Now what?” Granted, these are kids and this is bonafide street punk, so it’s not like they ought to be expected to wax poetic on foreign policy or the GOP tax plan, but it might be nice to sometimes mix things up a bit, both sonically and lyrically.
Nothing beats the promise of a record’s beginning, however, and from the minute “Wrong Direction” kicks off, all listeners should know what they’re in for. At a crisp 2:21, it’s the most apt way to start the collection, its defiance and pugnacity creating the perfect introduction. And “Road To Nowhere” even has a little Black Sabbath in it, feeling as much like a retro rocker as it does a call to arms for the disenfranchised. Plus, the way Henderson moves his voice, however slightly, as he enunciates the final phrasing of each hook is the thing that made ‘70s rock as memorable as it was — for both better and worse.
Yet at their age, The Xiles probably don’t care much about ‘70s rock … or more sophisticated lyrical content … or advanced musical textures … or, shoot, this review. That’s what makes them a joy to listen to and a band that has so much potential staring them square in the face, daring them to take advantage of it. The fearlessness is there, the energy is intoxicating and the commitment is unquestionable. It’s a recipe for undeniable success.
“I’m pugnacious, never politically correct,” Henderson snarls on the satirical “Mad Man Of The Year,” which closes out “No Comply” in respectable style.
But that’s what makes you great, man. And even if you have an issue with taking orders, do yourself a favor and follow this one: Don’t you ever forget it.
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **