Punk music has branched off in many different directions. Even though elements of the original form remain, time has allowed for progressions and regressions of a revolutionary sound representing the dispossessed. Dead To Me falls into the clean punk category. But just because the recording quality is cleaner on Cuban Ballerina, that doesn’t mean this band is sanitized.
Cuban Ballerina may be the best punk album I’ve heard this year. Vocalist/bassist Chicken, guitarist Jack Dalrymple, drummer Ian Anderson (no, not the guy from Jethro Tull), and other guitarist Brandon offer a brilliantly conceived group of serious and goofball songs that will stick in your head like used chewing gum on the heels of army boots.
The album starts off with “Don’t Lie”, which seems to be inspired by Clash-like political observations and a vocal style vaguely reminiscent of Mike Ness. From there, the boys kind of meander through a roster of styles influenced by progenitors Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, a bit of the New York Dolls here, NOFX, and a little bit of Jello Biafra there. Lyrically, Dead To Me emulates the cheekiness of Fat Mike’s work, but also delves deeply into addiction and recovery, a subject close to songwriter Chicken’s heart.
The problem with some modern purveyors of punk is they can get downright pretentious and run the risk of sounding self-important. Fortunately, Dead To Me plays their songs with joy and abandon, foregoing the pedantic messages some bands convey to keep the fun and creativity that music should bring to its performers and listeners. Cuban Ballerina ought to be required listening for any band wanting to revive the sense of play inherent in punk music. In a tip of the hat to British Oi! Music, Dead To Me addresses our current state of politics on a very personal basis and manages to keep a frenetic pace to match their intense energy.
So Cuban Ballerina is a potent mixed bag of material. In a way, it's a soundtrack for a 21st century movie that deals with the exorcism of the perennial demons of fucked up people living in a fucked up country. And while the band is often wryly ironic, there is refreshing directness about the songs. To borrow a line from Pink Floyd, these songs are short, sharp, shocks to the system; welcomed antidotes to a society bloated from poisonous endeavors.
This is a stunning debut for this band. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long-running recording career because the passionate directness of Dead To Me is a rare commodity in this time of loathsome commercial pap. While the revolution to come may not be televised, it will certainly be captured in all of its glory on more albums like Cuban Ballerina.