Released Jul. 26th on Concrete Jungle Records
Of the many reunions of old-school bands that followed in the wake of the 1990s punk revival, Orange County’s Adolescents made one of the most respectable showings, both by reconvening 4/5 of their original lineup (minus drummer Casey Royer, who was then trying to inject new life into his post-Adolescents band D.I.) and by releasing a kickass comeback album (2005’s OC Confidential). Since then the lineup has fluctuated, revolving around bassist Steve Soto and singer Tony Brandenburg (aka Tony Cadena/Montana/Adolescent/Reflex). 2011’s The Fastest Kid Alive was, in my opinion, not as good as its predecessor, miring itself in the topic of the ongoing war atmosphere. Presumed Insolent is better in pretty much all respects, a baker’s dozen of rippers showing off Brandenburg and Soto’s knack for writing sharp, biting skate punk tunes.
Most of the qualities that make this album appealing are on display in its first few tracks. The anti-conformity rant “Conquest of the Planet of the See Monkeys” has Brandenburg complaining that “From the cradle to the grave / We are media slaves … Jersey Shore to the OC / It’s our reality”. “Forever Summer” and “Riptide” ride killer SoCal punk riffs provided by guitarists Dan Root and Mike McKnight. Later on, songs like “Big Rock Shock”, the title track, and “Snaggletooth and Nail” pack similar punches.
Over the years Brandenburg has woven stories of his southern California upbringing and life into his songs, frequently using them to critique or comment on the state of his stomping grounds. Such local references pop up quite a bit on Presumed Insolent, such as in “Forever Summer” which deals with shady residential development along San Onofre beach, in the vicinity of the nuclear power station: “People don’t care / When they aren’t aware / No buyer beware / S-a-n – Ono-f-r-e / We’ll build your dream house next to the sea”. “Tic-Tac at the Alligator Tree” describes “a place where trouble dwells / between El Monte and Hell” and name-drops some of Brandenburg’s deceased punk rock contemporaries including Rob Ritter (45 Grave), D. Boon (Minutemen), Lux Interior (The Cramps), and Jeffrey Lee Pierce (The Gun Club).
There are some personal stories here too, particularly on the three tracks on which Brandenburg’s teenage daughter Mia shares coauthor credit. “In This Town Everything Is Wonderful” describes the family’s issues in their L.A. County home of Sierra Madre, where their youngest boy was bullied out of school for unruly behavior brought on by his sensory processing disorder, a neurological problem associated with autism: “They have a school patrolled by rats / They won’t put up with this or that / They stamp out little boys / When they make too much noise”. It’s a struggle that Tony and his wife Mary have been fighting for several years now (Tony, who has also had a career in teaching, including special education, is a vocal advocate for the rights of people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as for music and fine arts in education, topics frequently discussed in the Brandenburgs’ blog The Sierra Madre Tattler). “300 Cranes” deals with the death of Tony’s brother Troy in 2001 (one of his brothers committed suicide, another was murdered; I don’t know which one Troy was). “Big Rock Shock” is a reaction to the accidental death of Chris Shaefer, the Adolescents’ longtime European driver and tour manager. “Daisy’s Revenge” is the story of a real-life punk rocker who grew up to earn a PhD and help others, a tale of writing one’s own life rules. The central themes of the album, according to Brandenburg, are “crisis, law, and the presumption of guilt instead of the presumption of innocence”. Further information can be found on his blog, on which he aspires to tell the backstories behind each song in his long career.
With its ripping songs and personal subject matter, Presumed Insolent is a great addition to the Adolescents’ catalog. Fans of SoCal punk should definitely give it a spin.