Dirt Cult is one of the labels where I’ll check out a band based solely on the label’s history of releasing quality stuff that’s in my wheelhouse. I don’t know a lot about Era Bleak, and they’re a hair outside of the style I generally associate with the label. That said, they’re also blowing me away with the release of this 7-song, 14-minute album titled Demo. Is it actually a demo? I honestly don’t know, but the songwriting and recording quality seem almost too good for that to be the case.
Sometimes I like to write a review without doing the background work. I find it gives me a less biased viewpoint because I have to hear what the band is about, instead of reading interviews where they flat out tell you what they think the takeaway will be. I can repeat the information from their bandcamp page though, which is that this is a Portland, OR group that shares members with Dark/Light and Piss Test.
This is a diverse punk record that hits what you’d expect from the members’ other bands. There’s a defined sound that’s rooted in the early days of West Coast punk when the audience ran in endless circles and bands had an atmospheric approach that teetered between politically conscious, nihilistic, and somewhat otherworldly. There are tastes of vitriolic ‘80s LA punk, the flowing melody of the best pop-punks, and shades of artistic flourish (a la new wave) without the indulgence. The music is, at different times, driving, punchy and angry, and at other times its artistically tethered to the lyrical content, such as the vocal syncopation in “Robot,” the alarming anxiety of “Option Overload,” or the repetition that builds in to a hopeful call to action in closing jam “Night of the Curse.” Over the span of seven songs, Demo is alternately spooky, harrowing, anxious, pissed off, respectful, and with a final shout of “It’s time to fight!” action.
It’s hard to do Era Bleak justice because they take what seems like a classic, simple foundation and add so many flourishes that it means a lot of different things all at one time. This is angry punk rock, it’s thoughtful, conscious punk rock, and it’s artistic and a little bit experimental. Threading those concepts together, it’s always concise, and as silly as I feel repeating this phrase, this is punk rock.