Whatever you do, don't break Robby Hale's heart. If you do, chances are the Scowl Brow singer and songwriter will write a series of crass punk tunes showcasing every sordid detail, from heavy drug abuse to bad sex. And, really, that's what we have in his band's debut LP — a string of gutter-level confessions tied together by Hale's shit luck.
Yet this type of GG Allin-style full disclosure songwriting isn't as fringe as it may seem — WuTang Clan has been just as TMI for years. The main difference between ODB rasping "I got burned once, but it was only gonorrhea" and Hale casually admitting "after we fucked/ I guess I woke up/ rolled over to your best friend and felt her up" is that Scowl Brow's songs are evidently true. Still, it can feel like a battle of wills at points, with Hale determined not to blink first. "Tell Me Now," for instance, initially seems like the sweetest song on the album, with Hale ready to get married, ready to be a dad — and ends with an abortion.
Musically, this is solid — punchy production does this '50s-educated punk rock (emphasis on the rock) justice, while Hale's vocal melodies are as consistent and infectious as ever. The tracks are concise, catchy and compulsively honest. Most of these songs already appeared on the Scowl Brow EP, though. While these are undoubtedly strong cuts — "AM 55" and "Ghosts," particularly — their arrangements haven't really changed that much. Yeah, they sound great here (particularly on headphones), but Hale obviously has plenty of new songs in him — and some of them are excellent. The album closes with "Sober" — three minutes of untrammeled, finger-pointing ferocity. "Don't stay sober/ if you're drinking, you're driving tonight," Hale hollers over relentlessly pounding drums and choppy, surf-ish chords, and his heartbreak sounds fresh. An album of 100 percent fresh material — particularly on that level — would have been more satisfying.
In total, Scowl Brow offers a counterpoint to the occasionally accurate perception that the indie world is hopelessly twee: if you prefer your musicians strumming ukuleles and singing about art museums, don't spin this LP. But if you like a little rock 'n' roll with your sex and drugs, this may be your scene.
(Full disclosure: CL freelance photographer Justin Driscoll is Scowl Brow's bassist.)