Not many other bands sound like Be Your Own Pet these days. The Nashville band possesses a touch of post Riot Grrrl, aggression, a heap of all-out punk and a strong dose of dangerous youthful exuberance. The band first appeared with a stack of singles in 2005, only to later be picked up by Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label.
In 2006, they released their self-titled full-length, which found leader Jemina Pearl yelling and screeching with authority. A quick look at the band’s live performances on youtube will show you that she’s a mighty force to be reckoned with and one of the most engaging front-women you’re ever likely to see.
As an album, “Be Your Own Pet” was excellent. It thrashed through 15 tracks in 33 minutes, allowing a few quick moments for the shouts to give way to melody. “Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle” and “Adventure” were both singles, but the standout was the melodic “October, First Account” with the band slower but no less loud, and Pearl singing a standout tune. The disc as a whole was an impressive debut, for a band still in their teens. Never ones to be sugary, this was indeed aggressive, fiery music for adults.
“Get Awkward” is the band’s second full-length. It finds them in much the same place, only focusing more on song structure than mood. In other words, it bests their excellent debut.
The place you should start is “Creepy Crawl.” Believe it or not, I have listened to this song on repeat for more than an hour at a time on at least two separate occasions already. Considering the song clocks in at only 2:50, you’d think I’d be sick of it by now. Hardly! It’s the kind of infectious, all-consuming, ultimately addictive tracks that stands as an ultimate game-changer. Never have Be Your Own Pet been so witty and oddly funky. The song seems to tell the story of Pearl returning home to her old bedroom after all her experiences on tour. Not surprisingly, she feels like a “stranger” after seeing the world. Considering that at age 20, she’s the oldest member of her band, this is really something. How exactly does moderate success change someone so young? Here’s her quick document. I’m sure the guys who back her up had similar strange feeling. Pearl sings, “I’m not the girl that I was before, / Feel like I’m lying each time I walk through that door. / Sleeping in my own bed feels like a sin, / It’s hard to sink back into my life again.” This is real. It could be syrupy but it isn’t in the least. It is the coolest track I’ve heard this year thus far. The fact that it could potentially serve as a good means to crossover from hipster buzz-band to modern-rock radio is just icing on the cake. I urge all rock radio music directors to listen to the track and consider adding it. It’s a hit and Be Your Own Pet are truly worthy!
“You’re a Waste” also shows the band in a more pop-driven frame of mind and could also bring them a wider audience. In order to keep it from getting too glossy, the production is still rough, but there are signs of strong growth here.
If you are the kind of person who doesn’t know how to define punk, and if you think every Good Charlotte wannabe poseur who has wrongly exploited the punk or “pop-punk” label actually is punk, this isn’t a record for you. This is a wonderfully raw sonic beat-down in comparison more akin to authentic punk and hardcore bands of the past. The men in the band (Jonas Stein, Nathan Vasquez and newcomer John Eatherly) shout the chorus of “Bummer Time” sounding like a particularly unruly (by nevertheless fun) mob of hooligans. It’s straight out of Hardcore 101, but it’s cool nonetheless, as is the minute-long “Food Fight.”
On “Zombie Graveyard Party!,” when Pearl demands, “Let me eat your brain,” it’s an aggressive line which she more than pulls off. She’s a demanding powerhouse - part Kathleen Hanna, part Karen O., while still her own unique self.
She’s also got a nice gift for language and phrasing, as on “Free the Beast,” when she delivers the lines, “I went down to the sunshine state, got a haircut and came back late!” From the wrong person, that could sound just silly. Jemina Pearl means business.
While most bands their age are strictly delivering saccharine-driven dribble for the kids to consume, Be Your Own Pet sound all-knowing and weary for it. There’s something depressing but real about Pearl’s declaration “All I see are more dark days” (on "Super Soaked") referring to the future. Well, the world won’t disappoint as long as you’re a realist.
The sex and drug-referencing in “The Kelly Affair” stick with that frame of mind, but when the guitar-solo turns surfy, complete with “woo-hoos!” you sense the joy.
In writing this review, it came to my attention that the U.S. edition of the album is missing 3 songs available on the U.K. edition. According to a myspace bulletin posted by Pearl last week, the suits at Universal deemed the songs, “Black Hole,” “Becky” and “Blow Your Mind” too violent to release here. I don’t think this is a scam to drum up buzz. Rather, it seems more like a record company dictating what its artists should and shouldn’t do. Universal should be more concerned about how the band will respond to such maneuvers when contract-renewal time comes around, especially if the band breaks to a bigger audience. The album’s still got a warning sticker after all.
I have heard “Becky” and “Black Hole” streaming on the band’s website. Yes, they are violent, particularly “Becky,” a bouncy tune in which Pearl sings about killing her “B.F.F.” and then going to jail. Critics would argue that in a post-Columbine world, we have to take such preventative measures to remove such elements from the culture. While the content may on one level be distasteful, some will definitely find it rather Big Brother-ish that the label decided to make such a move, especially when far worse songs are readily available on other records. Also “Becky” is no worse in its content than “Excitable Boy” by Warren Zevon or “Used to Love Her” by Guns ‘n’ Roses! If people are going to commit violent acts, odds are, removing songs from an album isn’t going to stop somebody who really wants to do damage. Tune-wise, the two out three omitted tracks which I’ve been able to sample are strong, and would’ve made the album better. It’s a shame they were eliminated for content. Those who want them will no doubt find the import. If the same lyrics were in a book would it not be published? I doubt it.
For those in the know who follow the music industry, removing the tracks only draws more attention to them, thus in a global society, Universal’s tactic backfires. Also, with companies making such judgments, the question is where does it stop? It’s a slippery slope. Pretty soon someone will make a decision eliminating something which could spark a lively, substantive conversation on a controversial issue. Often things that are shocking shine light on larger societal problems paving the way for changes which are ultimately positive. It’s an interesting topic of discussion.
So, the U.S. version of “Get Awkward” is a 12-track, 29-minute dose of thrashy noise. Obviously, it’s not for the faint of heart. Keeping that in mind, even in its diminished state, it’s a really strong, worthy musical statement and one of the best of this young year. Be Your Own Pet are a band to watch, indeed.