A lot can change in two years. These days, the waves are rolling in from the right, not the left, and they’re looking a lot more ominous. “The vibrations are very different right now,” acknowledged Victoria Ruiz in a recent interview with The Cut. “While all the lyrics were written before the current regime was inaugurated, we were writing about the feeling of being the target of white fragility, white supremacy, the police state, the homophobic state.” But what may have changed most for Downtown Boys might be their fortunes. Since releasing Full Communism, the group has played SXSW and Coachella and, crucially, signed to Sub Pop—putting them in a position similar to Fucked Up when they signed to Matador or Pissed Jeans when they joined Sub Pop. These are all big and, yes, risky steps for a crew with roots in labor activism (and links to Providence’s anarchist marching band, the What Cheer? Brigade) that built its reputation on confrontation and a refusal to compromise.
They’ve met those challenges with characteristic spark: Downtown Boys used their SXSW booking as a platform to call for the removal of a deportation clause included in performers’ contracts; as self-identified “workers for Coachella,” they assailed AEG founder Philip Anschutz for donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-LGBTQ organizations. But on their new album, they also sound like a changed band in certain respects. The record was produced by Guy Picciotto, of Fugazi (an ironic choice, if only because guitarist Joey La Neve DeFrancesco once told Wondering Sound, “We love Fugazi and Minor Threat, but they definitely propagated this punk lifestyle individualism that we’re grappling with now”), and while Full Communism boasted the unfocused din and no-fucks-given sound quality of a basement show, Cost of Living revels in the gleaming, multi-tracked expanse of a professional recording studio. It’s a richer, fuller sound; the stereo imaging is wider and the saxophone (they’ve stripped down to just one, now played by Joe DeGeorge, who also handles keyboards) has more presence in the mix.
The bigger, brighter sound often serves them well. “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)” begins with a thundering drum groove and a lean, serrated guitar riff, but horizons quickly open up as a second guitar line peels off from the first; it’s dissonant and searching in a way that seems to call into question the very premise of the song’s straight-ahead drive. That kind of melodic tension runs through the album. Locked into pummeling, no-nonsense grooves, drummer Norlan Olivo and bassist Mary Regalado make for a powerhouse rhythm section, while DeFrancesco’s guitar flashes like sheet lightning. And while their songwriting isn’t as complex as, say, Fugazi’s, it’s a step beyond hardcore’s conventional verse/chorus format, with most songs stretching out like long, rickety branches—intuitive yet unpredictable in their twists and turns. (Not everything bears such markedly hi-fi sound quality: The raging “Because You” and “Tonta” sound as gritty as ever, and classic minor-key hardcore changes and full-throated sax skronk actually come as something of a relief.)(Pitchfork.com)