Critics' Picks

The Bangs

Susanna Hoffs' former outfit briefly used the name, but it never quite fit; they were Bangles, after all, sparkly-spangly little do-dads no more or less significant than a candy bar or a belly-button ring. To bear the name The Bangs, you gotta have more meat on your bones, more tussle to the muscle, more tough in the rough (like, oh, Lester Bangs). You have to be willing to play it hard, loud, fast, furious, and funny in order to bang it on home--onetwoonetwothreefour! This Olympia, Washington, trio--which describes half the indie bands in America receiving ink in a weekly newspaper as we speak--does its moniker justice on its second disc, Sweet Revenge: 11 songs in 30:24, and the final number is Cheap Trick's hand-clap-happy "Southern Girls," meaning you don't have to ask that irritating question about influences. (The band's first disc, 1998's Tiger Beat, was even shorter and sharper--10 songs in less than 27 minutes, which makes you wonder what The Bangs do with their spare time. Actually, bassist-vocalist Maggie Vail is the publicist for The Bangs' label, Kill Rock Stars, meaning any rock critic in his/her right mind will say nice things about The Bangs if they want to keep on that Sleater-Kinney gravy train. But, seriously...)

You can hear why they hate the Sleater-Kinney comparisons, though: That band sounds like no one before it or since; S-K's brilliant shtick is its own, harmonies that don't quite lock up poured on top of angular, beautiful, poetic dischord (which is a half-assed way of saying their shit is very, very cool to the touch). The Bangs, on the other hand, live to entertain, to soak in your sweat. Their punk is but herky-jerky pop, not quite sung but not quite shouted either; Vail and guitarist-singer Sarah Utter are in it for grins, for kicks, for boys, for "Fast Easy Love" with the cuties slumming by the jukebox or the stage (but only if they aren't your rebound girl). You might be tempted to place them on the timeline that begins "The Runaways" and ends "The Donnas," only there's a substantial difference: The Runaways couldn't sing (Joan Jett, back then, sounded as if the only key she knew went to her car), and The Donnas won't stick (they cover Mötley Crüe, which goes to show you how profound they aren't).

Of course, you could just stick to the obvious, of course: Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, the rest of KRS' roster. But The Bangs, at their best, sound like the Go-Go's at their early, smeared-mascara worst: perky punks out for a gooey good time, stumbling across "meaningful" only when it doesn't interfere with funfunfun. Somewhere in Sweet Revenge is a nifty, "deep" album about relationship, pain, aching, longing, hope, frustration--the "Docudrama" that is all our lives. Look for it if you want; you'll be rewarded for the effort. But something about The Bangs makes you want to stick close to the surface. There, you won't get hurt. -- Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky