2016 was a year that was made infinitely more enjoyable care of surf punk foursome Tacocat. Their Lost Time album (see our review previously) weaved in pop culture, feminism, social commentary and good tunes to produce one of the outstanding releases of the year.
Now back with new album This Mess Is A Place, Tacocat (aka vocalist Emily Nokes, bassist Bree McKenna, guitarist Eric Randall and drummer Lelah Maupin) try to figure out their place in the political hellscape we’ve all found ourselves in post-2016.
As an album, This Mess Is A Place (which also marks their first album on Sub Pop) continues the tradition of Tacocat’s super-surf sounds and witty observations while staying within the raw, unreconstructed approach that’s been part of the Seattle band’s DNA since day one. The album also benefits from producer Erik Blood’s talent in polishing Tacocat’s sound, while also retaining their more spiky qualities.
Opener ‘Hologram’ delights with its tight guitars and clipped percussion (and was one of the highlights of Tacocat’s recent London live show). It’s peppered with wry lines delivered by Nokes, including such sharp wordplay as “Don’t take this the wrong way/But you’re doing this the wrong way”. At the same time, the song’s mantra that “Power is a hologram” provides an engaging hook.
Not unlike Austra, Tacocat also manage to look for optimism in the modern age, carving out the utopian landscape of ‘New World’. It’s a perky tune that explores waking up in a better world that ends on a beautiful image of “Confetti raining from the sky.”
‘Grains of Salt’ offers a combo of grooving bass with some smooth synth lines chucked in here and there for good effect. Lyrically, it’s a composition that seems to be exploring ideas about finding a direction in life. As a result, it give lines such as “Don’t forget to remember who the fuck you are” a particularly potent impact.
There’s a sharper edge to ‘The Joke of Life’ with its scrutiny of the strange cultural landscape of 2019 (“Devolve to adapt, adapt to forget”) which also seems to throw a nod to The Ramones in the mix. Meanwhile, lines like “Just sip your lies from your sippy cup” are delivered with a suitably caustic edge.
The album also throws in some unexpected gems, like the pet-friendly ‘Little Friend’ (which, despite its subject matter, has some surprisingly fierce guitars lurking in the long grass). Elsewhere, the unexpected ‘Meet Me at La Palma’ offers a slice of life moment with much more warmer elements.
There are more pointed observations on ‘Rose-Colored Sky’, with its lyrical musings on privilege (“You haven’t done anything wrong/Because you haven’t done anything”). While there’s more witty cynicism on the engaging bass-heavy ‘Crystal Ball’ (“What a time/To be barely alive”).
Closing the album out, ‘Miles and Miles’ delivers a more laid-back Tacocat with more room for reflection (“The days drag, but the years have flown”). As a reverie on the nature of time and the inevitability of change, it seems like the perfect place to bring proceedings to a close.
Emily Nokes sums up the Tacocat MO (and the new album’s thrust) succinctly: “We can examine some hard stuff, make fun of some evil stuff, feel some soft feelings, feel some rage feelings, feel some bitter-ass feelings, sift through memories, feel wavy-existential, and still go get a banana daiquiri at the end.”
Ultimately, This Mess Is A Place is perhaps a statement of defiance or a call to arms of sorts. It’s asking an audience where they stand or, as the track ‘Rose-Colored Sky’ puts it: “If I wasn’t on the battleground/I bet I coulda changed the world by now.”
This Mess Is A Place is out now on the Sub Pop label.