Critics' Picks

The Distillers

In 1998, a 19-year-old girl named Brody came to the United States from Melbourne, Australia, and settled in Detroit. Back home, she had played in a punk band called Sourpuss, so she wasted no time in getting together a new group and dubbing it The Distillers. Brody's new band included a local guitarist (Casper), a bassist from Los Angeles (Kim 'Chi'), and a drummer (Mat Young) whose résumé includes stays with hardcore bands ADZ and CH3. No big deal, right?

Maybe, if the story ended there. But this is only the part where it gets interesting. Besides starting The Distillers, Brody also proved that even studs-and-spikes punk rockers with Mohawks can get mushy when she married Tim Armstrong, singer-guitarist of Epitaph Records stalwarts Rancid. And then coincidentally or not, her band was signed to Armstrong's record label, Hellcat, which is part of the Epitaph umbrella. How cute. Not surprisingly, the allegations of nepotism have been a constant source of criticism for the band, as it is somewhat impossible to separate the motives involved. Did Tim Armstrong sign his wife's band because as Hellcat head honcho he likes the music and thinks it can sell? Or did he sign her band because he is a fairly sane husband aware of the tension he could cause at home if he decided against signing The Distillers? Fans of the band, obviously, opt for the former, while detractors believe Tim's just being a good husband.

The Distillers' self-titled debut, however, supports the nicer explanation. Like most records released by Hellcat, it's filled with pretty standard, Rancid-style punk rock: fast and straight-ahead, with little to no veering off the main course for experimentation or exploration. However, the most interesting thing about The Distillers (besides an absolutely fantastic cover of Patti Smith's "Ask The Angels") is Brody Armstrong's voice. Angry and throaty throughout most of the album (even slurring at times like the vocals of her husband), it's also capable of sweetness and tenderness, such as in the harmonies of "Oh Serena." It also, to the displeasure of those fond of slagging her on The Distillers' Internet message board, sounds a lot like the voice of Hole frontwoman Courtney Love. But I think that's a good thing; she doesn't sound like the "oh make me over"-Celebrity Skin-obsessed-with-Stevie Nicks Courtney Love, but rather the Live Through This-era Courtney Love, full of anger and love and fear and bravado.

It would seem, then, that Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong can co-exist peacefully on a professional level. The Distillers really do fit on Hellcat Records on a musical level and will probably find success with a combination of Epitaph marketing muscle and constant touring. Fan reviews of both the album and their live show (they toured on most of this year's Epitaph-sponsored Punk-O-Rama tour) have been overwhelmingly positive, leading to heightened expectations for their Dallas date. But even if the reviews weren't so good, people would still want to check out the band featuring Tim Armstrong's wife. In fact, more people would come out to see and hear Brody Armstrong fall on her face. People are funny that way.

Yuval Weber

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Yuval Weber