Friday, November 11, 2016
Pep Squad -- 1995-2000: Fact or Fiction
When I did my prep for these Pep Squad reviews, I wanted to make sure Pep Squad didn't have any quiet reunions that I wasn't aware of. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the band had compiled a final, unreleased album, composed of little known tracks, B-sides, and live songs. These kinds of collections can be a mixed bag, but when it comes to a band you enjoy, who've only put out a grand total of 22 album tracks, you take what you can get. Thankfully, Fact or Fiction is a Pep Squad fan's treat.
The collection begins with ten never or not-widely released songs, and ends with three live tracks and three tracks from the band's very early, independently released EP. One of the previously unreleased tracks in the first ten is called "The Smell of Hugs," so you definitely know this is Pep Squad.
Throughout the opening ten, you get the high energy indie rock Pep Squad were known for, but also some songs in the vein of the surprisingly lovely, wistful, gentler tracks that popped up on their swan song, Yrecka Bakery. There's even one where guitarist, Kim, sings lead (she has generally sang background to this point), called "I Love You." Of course, Pep Squad, while seeming to be completely irreverent, can toss in a completely earnest song with a title like that, and have it not seem unnatural.
I should also mention the album cover, which seems ridiculously serious in comparison to any press photo this band has ever taken. It's either some meta-meta-meta joke that goes so many levels beyond human comprehension that it almost makes sense, or it is meant to reflect the emotions of the surprisingly confessional opening track, "Punk Rock How To," where the band bitterly reflect on driving thousands of miles to play for 23 people (it's the last song the ever recorded). Pep Squad simply did not make songs where they just straight up told you something, and they don't really do it again here after track one, but there is a darker strain to some of these songs than what is found on their two full lengths. "Black and Blue," for instance, has some particularly dark overtones, dark enough to be rejected by distributors from inclusion on Yrecka Bakery. I think it's one of their best songs, though, coupling an unnervingly muted stalker vocal delivery with a drum machine, a very relaxing acoustic arrangement, a kickass bass line, and a simple, but cool keyboard outro. Really, there's a ton of diversity on this comp, as much as any Pep Squad album, and just like when I try to describe any Pep Squad album, I feel dumb. From interviews I've discovered during research, it seems like the band repeatedly turned the phrase "We have absolutely no idea what we are doing" into a genre. They started by accident (a brother and sister goofing off and having fun), with no musical intentions other than to write and play music, did that, and found that, unfortunately, most people want you to have intentions. Then they broke up.
I wish more bands would personify the free-spirit that Pep Squad did. They may not have had the most musical talent, but they could play well enough, and they just did whatever they wanted. They didn't care who liked it, they just did it. I've used the phrase "Pep Squad was not cool" multiple times throughout these reviews, but how cool is that?
2000 (Self-Released on Bandcamp)
1. Punk Rock How To 03:34
2. Angela Jones (Live on KBOO) 02:30
3. Smell of Hugs 02:45
4. I Am Alone Inside 03:34
5. I Love You 02:36
6. New Baby Doll 03:02
7. Feliz Navidad 02:43
8. Year of the Tiger 02:41
9. Polar Glasses 01:52
10. Black & Blue (Original) 04:49
11. Super Trooper (Live on KBOO) 01:49
12. Open (Live in Florida) 02:34
13. Birds & Fleas (Live in Florida) 04:25
14. Bug Nug (Original) 03:57
15. Awfully Something Awfull 02:16
16. Let Molly Shine 03:02