Punk Band Neighborhood Brats Are Back and Only Slightly Less Bratty
Neighborhood Brats singer Jenny Angelillo doesn't want to talk about being compared to Black Flag. Instead, she jokes her "destiny" is to become Youth of Today frontman Ray Cappo.
Angelillo is back home in East Oakland — "the part where it starts to get sketchy" — after a 10-day stint in New York City, having just completed intensive yoga instructor training. Her Neighborhood Brats co-founder George Rager currently lives in Venice, but after 12 years in the greater Los Angeles area, Angelillo is committed to the Bay. "Oakland is great. And I live so close to the Raider Nation. Hello? They throw batteries at people!"
Reached later during a post-work drink in Culver City, Rager is less enthusiastic about Venice, which he describes as "a collection of self-entitled assholes that'll inherit a beach house, tear it down to build a $3 million mansion, then live like hillbillies."
The pair formed Neighborhood Brats in 2010 aiming to be the "ultimate SF party band." He writes the music, she handles the lyrics. Initial efforts, as Angelillo describes, were about "getting roofied at the Beauty Bar, the guy stabbing people on BART, crazy people in Golden Gate Park, sharks, zombie sharks, sharks eating pizza, and buying coke in Post-It notes."
Those songs, recorded between 2010 and 2012, would eventually appear on 2013's No Sun No Tan, which packs 11 tracks into a blistering, 18-minute blast of hardcore punk. Angelillo's vocals pierce a riot of razor-sharp, surf-inflected riffs and ring with unhinged anger, appetite for action and effortless melody.
It's a perfect record for drinking through a hangover.
Later EPs Birth Right (2013) and Total Dementia (2014) mine similar lyrical territory. But elements reminiscent of Minor Threat's groovier side surface, and while the chords crackle with energy, songs like "Party Going Nowhere" and an inspired cover of The Go-Gos' "Lust to Love," betray disenchantment with the romantic punk ideal of alcohol-fueled blackout parties.
These themes would feature prominently on 2014's Recovery, which sacrifices no ferocity or velocity. The band's dynamic abilities are on stark display against an ashy landscape of ruined relationships and — see "The Pharmacy Is Closer Than the Liquor Store" — chemical weariness. The stellar "Painted and Gutted" even briefly bridges from surf to shoegaze.
Live shows are an experience. Petite, fit and articulate, Angelillo looks like a Montessori mom's adorable babysitter, save for her tattoos. On stage, she radiates the approximate energy level of a fighter jet, and ricochets between laser-focused crowd riling and frenzied flashes of apparent self-exorcism.
"I kind of have an out of body experience when we play," she says. "It's a weird dichotomy, I completely check into my body and leave it at the same time. I'm somewhere floating above the ceiling looking down. My body feels like those old people in that movie Cocoon, when they're all neon."
In early 2015, the Neighborhood Brats called it quits. Rager's message to fans cited "tour schedules, release delays, different lineups, health concerns and the general mayhem of managing a DIY punk rock band" as the factors behind its demise. There'd been little stability for the band, and making every record had been a juggling act.
"Total Dementia was recorded on the sly, between 1 and 3 a.m., so the engineer's boss wouldn't find out," he reveals. "Recovery was rehearsed only three times before we went into the studio. Most of those drum tracks were done in one take."
Fortunately, the breakup didn't stick, and the reasons were simple. "I just can't not make music. Without it, I feel like I'm missing a limb. Like I'm wearing tight jeans without underwear. I'm just uncomfortable," Angelillo says, "and I missed the Brats. I missed George — my best friend, bandmate and writing partner." So after a "heart-to-heart" with Night Birds frontman Brian Gorsegner about "how to make being an adult, a punk, and being in a band sustainable," she called Rager, and Neighborhood Brats began plotting a return.
"We're ready to do a new album," Rager says, "but until Jenny and I can do what we've been doing for the last six years — which is sit around my living room, talk, and work on songs — exactly how long it'll be until we can record is hard to say. But it'll be sometime in 2016."
The next Neighborhood Brats record "will have a healthy dose of Chiswick-era sounding punk, like the stuff we grew up listening to, with some California punk inspiration," according to Rager. And while the songs will "breathe a little more, they won't be longer than two minutes, because that's about my attention span," he laughs.
The Neighborhood Brats play the Redwood Bar & Grill in DTLA on Thursday Feb. 11.
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