In the punk world, when things go south for human rights, for the smaller communities of our country and for the disenfranchised, you can guarantee there will be bands calling out such disparities. And when Trump was elected, I knew that Providence’s Downtown Boys would have no problem calling out the dumpster fire of a presidency that he represents. The band, recently signed to Sub Pop records, has always stood up for the working class and young people of color while simultaneously releasing some of the most intriguing music to come out in the past decade. While the lyrics for their new release, Cost of Living, produced by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, were written before the orange menace was elected, the album is still a great critique of the current political climate. And with its high intensity and higher sound quality, it’s without a doubt one of the most important releases of this year so far. Full of grooves and subtle nuances that might have been lost in previous recordings, the group takes where groups like Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine started, and takes it to a whole new place.
Opening with “A Wall,” the band wastes no time in showcasing how vastly different from the current punk bands they truly are. In this track, the saxophone is finally displayed in a manner that makes it an asset in the band’s recording, while the lyrics of “How much is enough? And who makes that call? Fuck It!” shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Like Nirvana spoke to a generation who saw a bleak future without anyone singing their praises, Downtown Boys does the same. The song has plenty of groove and punk undertones, while Victoria Ruiz’ signature vocals get the point across loud and clear. The same could be said by the piercing and personal sounds of the following track, “I’m Enough (I Want More),” where the despair of growing up poor and without much hope for the future is painfully clear. While the lyrics are definitely important here, the music is definitely the strongest that the group has released.
Three songs in, the Spanish sung lyrics and intensely ominous tones of “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)” offers up an anthemic voice for those without one. One of the best things about Downtown Boys is Ruiz’ ability to cut through the bullshit of the rest of the world, and she does so in full force here. The groove-heavy notes follow on “Promissory Note” where the punk leanings of the band come through and remind you of bands like The Jam and The Bags. The band sounds their best when they find a groove and keep the lyrics full of energy, and this song offers both up in a fashion that can’t be denied. Two tracks later on “Violent Complicity,” the stark and impassioned lyrics and melodic energy don’t disappoint. The guitar, bass, and drums flow effortlessly while the sax peppers underneath with ease where Ruiz’ vocals are met with a group vocal that makes the song another strong standout of the album.
The following song, “It Can’t Wait,” keeps those melodies and punk intensity in your face in the best way possible. The song musically is tight and fierce, while lyrically it keeps things at a level where anyone who listens can sing along with a fist in the air for the downtrodden. Three songs later, “Lips That Bite” lives up to its name. Full of the groove-heavy jams that the band brings to their live sets, the song reminds you how truly diverse this five-piece is. Keeping the punk alive while adding elements that you haven’t heard from punk in the past twenty years, when the saxophone comes in, it’s like a breath of fresh air on a song that’s already better than a lot of what you’ll hear elsewhere. Closing with “Bulletproof (Outro),” Downtown Boys proves that the new punks have more intensity and message than those who came before them.
This record is definitely the best of Downtown Boys’ young career and proves how being political can be the best thing for everyone right now. In a time where we need more voices calling out the wealthy and abusive, Downtown Boys not only speak up for the majority of us, they lead the charge. You can stream “Cost of Living” in all of the usual places or buy it directly from the band’s Bandcamp page. You can catch Downtown Boys when they perform tonight at Walter’s (Sept. 8). The all ages show has doors at 8 pm and a $10 cover with opening performances from Giant Kitty and Sin Fe.