Spells are party punk, pure and simple. And I’m not talking songs about beer and friendship, a la early Pkew Pkew Pkew or Andrew WK. Spells are the life of the party, not just songs about what goes down when the lights dim low.
Stimulants & Sedatives is sort of a concept record – it has two sides on the vinyl to be enjoyed in the order you see fit: one side stimulating, the other relaxing…but let’s be honest: most people are listening to this this digitally and that’s out the window. Also, “Stimulants” comes first in the album title so that’s how the review will proceed.
When I saw Spells, frontman Ben Roy was wearing a sailor hat and Hawaiian-print shirt (or something similar – my memory is fallible). That should sum it up right there, but I guess I’ll keep going because there is depth here. Party punk can be a pejorative term meaning it’s vacuous and silly-without-substance but, like I said, this is life of the party material. It’s a celebration; it doesn’t tell you to smile, it makes you smile. And that’s a big difference (and not a knock against the artists named at the top of this review).
According to the press release, Spells largely exists so the band itself can party – described as “vacation rock” that formed as an excuse to tour to beach towns and rock the night away. While there’s a clear joke element at play. Opener “We Can Relate” could just as well be titled “We Can’t Relate (To Your Money)”. It’s communal with the big chorus, but it has some meaning. Then, at times, it seems downright silly too. Let’s just say I’d prefer to read a lyric sheet before I go on record quoting “West of Syracuse.” The structures are hook-driven with big earworm melodies and subtle homage to the classics. The Hawaiian-print shirt feels like the most apt metaphor: it’s punk rock with some tongue-in-cheek arena rock elements but at its core it’s singalong good time punk; a soundtrack for a backyard cookout, a festive show or, yes, a beach party with antics gleaned from ‘80s comedies. For good measure, there’s some dramatic glam and yacht rock influence and singalong street punk that seeps in from time to time for extra flare. At times, Spells reminds me of Sass Dragons.
As a five-piece, there are vocal tradeoffs and ample gang refrains to keep that pep going with some fresh energy when it needs that extra boost. It draws a balance between wave-your-beer-in-the-air and pump-your-fist-in-the-air tempos and energy, which is the theme at play between the stimulants and sedatives sides of the record. Sometimes you might even dance around, if you aren’t too winded from the other bad-for-your-health activities taking place at the same time.
Spells take the goofy, costume elements of 1980s comedies and blend it with the grounded-in-reality but with a winking irony of the 2020s and rolls it into a single, playful and surprisingly powerful punch. No it doesn’t reinvent anything, but it sets out exactly what it seeks to do and it delivers a good time in the process.
7.5 / 10
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