When Fullerton, California’s brash quartet Audacity first started churning out EPs and ripping up basements, it was hard to not get swept up in their adolescent exuberance. When a band can boast their ten-year anniversary before their members are legally old enough to rent a car, then one can only assume that their battle plan hinges largely on the rebellious energy and fearless charisma that comes with youth. Their last full-length, 2013’s Butter Knife, confirmed that strategy. It was the perfect encapsulation of a band brimming over with pop hooks, caffeinated chops, and a rabid repurposing of rock’s various primitive permutations. But young bands grow up quickly. Those deliciously sloppy riffs often get cleaned up. The petulant invincibility gets tempered down to cautious clichés. The rough edges get buffed down and glossed over. They stop exploring and opt to settle into the tried and true.
Fortunately, Audacity don’t seem to be the least bit interested in slowing down or sprucing up. If anything, their fourth album Hyper Vessels hits harder and meaner than any of their previous releases. Yeah, maybe the gear involved in making the record sounds a little better, but every drum hit, every guitar strum, and every tuneful shout sounds like there’s more heft behind it. Sharpened brains and sheer brawn compensate for whatever grit might have been compromised by a better recording budget and a little more musical acumen. “Our first two albums were made during our ‘young band’ phase,” says guitarist/vocalist Kyle Gibson. “Being a band of teenagers was our identity. Butter Knife and Hyper Vessels were our process of finding who we are now as a band of young adults.” While becoming an adult might mean having a more sophisticated worldview or more artistic discipline, it hasn’t tempered Audacity’s frenzied mishmash of garage rock, power pop, and proto-punk. “I usually reject the narrative of ‘the album when they mature’, Gibson continues. “I think all our albums—and all my favorite albums and works of art in general—have been a mixture of high-brow intellectual moments and silliness.”
From the opening bedlam of barnburner “Counting The Days”, Audacity demonstrate that while their songwriting has become more nuanced, their delivery has gotten more savagely precise. With recording duties handled by longtime friend and tourmate Ty Segall, Audacity sound like they’ve finally found someone who can capture the frenetic drive of a song like “Hypo”, the off-kilter hook of “Riot Train”, the undeniable melodic appeal of “Fire”, and the cowpunk influence of “Previous Cast”.
It can be tricky to juggle the bubblegum with the piss-and-vinegar, but it’s a duality Audacity embraces, “I feel like we get portrayed a lot as a sunshine-y, carefree California band,” Gibson says “But lots of our songs deal with melodramatic subject matter. The fact we’ve all lived in Fullerton pretty much the whole time we’ve been in the band has some effect on the music. Driving around town, there’s a memory or a ghost on every street. People die or move away or get in trouble, or groups of friends drift apart and start hating each other and get in fights. It’s not demoralizing; it’s a part of life, but of course it affects the music.” That frustration manifests itself on songs like “Overrated”, where you can almost hear the spit and sweat hitting the microphone. But then they turn around and bask in the un-apologetically gratuitous pop swagger of album closer “Lock On The Door”. By the time Hyper Vessels comes to close, you’re convinced that Audacity can get away with whatever they damn well please, it’s going to have its adrenaline-fueled charm regardless.