Our Take: On Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic, The Gotobeds Balance Stupid Humor and Smart Songcraft

The Gotobeds © Shawn Brackbill
The Gotobeds © Shawn Brackbill

Ross' Take


Pittsburgh’s The Gotobeds have an instantly-charming, beer-soaked kind of swagger that comes through in almost all of their music. The group’s a bit like the favorite bar-band you never knew you had – ten seconds into any given tune, and you feel like you’re three drinks deep and in on all their jokes.

The band’s 2014 debut record, Poor People Are Revolting (that title…) was a brash, sarcastic riot and its garage-y lead single “NY’s Alright (If You Like Sex + Phones)” endeared them to legions of fans who ate up the fresh-faced group confident and clever enough to take the piss out of Big Apple hipsterdom (Classic opening lines: “New York’s alright if you can get yr dick sucked / Collegiate display of post-classic head-fuck”). Add to that their raucous, unpredictable shows, and the group quickly made a name for themselves.

Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic - The Gotobeds
Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic – The Gotobeds

Yet underneath the jokes and the loud, boozy rock’n’roll schtick (suggestive of the Replacements), was a subtly impressive band with one foot firmly planted in prickly, art-damaged post-punk; the debut suggested musical influences like Wire, the Fall, and Mission of Burma – not exactly shit-talking bar-bands.

On the latest (fantastically titled) record Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic (released June 2016 via indie-titans Sub Pop), The Gotobeds strike a more equal balance between those two impulses that characterized their debut. There are jokes for sure, but they’re a little wryer, less laugh-out-loud and more cutting. And there’s plenty of balls-to-wall rawk, but also more oblique, as well as more delicate, songwriting too.

It would be a stretch to say The Gotobeds have matured – and we really don’t want them to – but the tunes on their latest record are undoubtedly more sonically varied and more carefully crafted.

Listen: “Real Maths/Too Much” – The Gotobeds

Album opener “Real Maths/Too Much,” is a punk banger, teeming with anxious energy. Bassist Gavin Jensen and drummer Cary Belback lock into a propulsive rhythm, and guitarists Eli Kasan and Tom Payne’s trebly guitars buzz over top, wandering and weaving together (their double lead work falls somewhere in between Television and Thin Lizzy, which is of course awesome).

Kasan shout-sings:

If you insist on hanging a cross,
I’ll be at the bar…
Ask too much,
You ask too much! (Okay)
Ask too much,
I lost my touch! (Okay)

It’s not entirely clear what he’s being asked about, but you better bet he’s totally over talking about it. The lyrics are obscure yet metaphor-laden enough that listeners can read into them any number of things, but the fist-pumping hookiness of the “Ask too much!” chorus sells the sentiment completely. And many of the best songs on the album work in the same way.

Listen: “Red Alphabet” – The Gotobeds

The record’s understated (kinda surprising) standout track is tune called “Red Alphabet.” Kasan trades out his characteristic punky projection for a softer singing voice, imbuing the words with a sincere emotionality that stands in striking contrast to the sarcasm and playfulness we’ve come to expect. The lyrics are cryptic but affecting:

Red Alphabet bleeds white,
Bled White
Tongues haven’t met,
But oh well, oh well
Blue like a dress,
I confess,
I confess…

The song’s got a (slightly) slower tempo; the drums and bass chug along steadily and the guitar interplay is simple but often very beautiful. It feels as if the band is building toward something for the entire length of the track, a cacophonous release of the musical tension maybe – but that tension goes unresolved. The song almost gets there, but just ends. And that defiance of expectation works perfectly in conjunction with the vocals, giving the tune a peculiar, but very distinct, emotional resonance.

Watch: “Cold Gold (LA’s Alright)” – The Gotobeds

Immediately following “Red Alphabet” is “Cold Gold (LA’s Alright),” a sequel of sorts to the band’s breakout song, and a counterbalance to the former tune’s experimentation. “Cold Gold” reintroduces us to the version of The Gotobeds from the band’s debut: they’re flippant and buoyant and fantastic. Kasan gets in a couple of good digs and the best is probably:

In America we don’t move on,
We just move,
You ever seen LA? Haha
They’re not living proof

The lyrics don’t quite capture the irreverence of “NY’s Alright,” but then LA’s a different beast altogether. The humor here is a bit drier and a bit more incisive. Kasan sets his sights on the shallowness he associates with LA culture, and those same themes pop-up again on “Crisis Time” where he uses deadpan sarcasm to highlight the emptiness of consumer culture, diss Rolling Stone, call-out spiteful internet trolls, and shout-out feminist music writer Jes Skolnik (who has been very vocal about her experience with rape and taken flak for it from those trolls) all in the same song.

Listen: “Crisis Time” – The Gotobeds

Crisis Time” is ambitious in that The Gotobeds do everything that they do well on the record all at once within one song, but the rest of the tunes aren’t quite as packed with ideas. The band achieves a nice sense of balance with a funnier, punkier song here, a more serious, crafted tune there, and so on.

A tune like “Brass Not Rash,” is driving and anthemic, as Kasan smirkingly proclaims, “I can be bought, not sold!” while the track “Glass House,” hooks the serious topic of depression to a simple, sweet melody, and then wraps the vocals all up in a swath of noisy, dissonant guitar work.

The Gotobeds © Shawn Brackbill
The Gotobeds © Shawn Brackbill

And maintaining that particular balance is crucial for The Gotobeds. Drawing from the pool of post-punk influences that they do, the band necessarily invites comparisons to other groups who work within that same sphere of indie-rock, bands like Parquet Courts (a comparison to the “NY’s Alright” video winkingly acknowledges) and like Protomartyr (with whom The Gotobeds have toured, and whose singer Joe Casey makes a guest appearance on the track “Why’d You?”).

Protomartyr’s lyrics utilize black humor, but that’s within the overall context of the band’s unrelentingly grim, post-industrial-Detroit aesthetic. And Parquet Courts can be funny, but they also explicitly position themselves as an NYC-based art-punk group – there’s some pretense there. As songwriters, The Gotobeds can hold their own with either of those bands, and Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic suggests the group is only getting better in that regard. What The Gotobeds have and those other bands don’t is the smart-ass charm and bar-band accessibility in addition to the songwriting chops – and that’s what makes Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic so appealing.

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Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic

an album by The Gotobeds

Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic - The Gotobeds
Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic – The Gotobeds

:: The Gotobeds :: 2016 Tour Dates ::

*w/ Sub Pop labelmates Arbor Labor Union

WED, Jul 20 – The Earl, Atlanta, GA (w/Arbor Labor Union)*
THU, Jul 21 – Saturn Birmingham, Birmingham, AL (w/Arbor Labor Union)*
FRI, Jul 22 – Hi-Tone Cafe, Memphis, TN (w/Arbor Labor Union)*
SAT, Jul 23 – Foobar, Nashville, TN (w/Arbor Labor Union, Savoy Motel)*
SAT, Jul 23 – Grimey’s, Nashville, TN (live in store! 5pm, free, all-ages)* Tickets
SUN, Jul 24 – Northside Yacht Club, Cincinnati, OH*
SUN, Jul 24 – Shake It Records, Cincinnati, OH (Live in store: 4pm, free, all-ages)* Tickets

cover photo: The Gotobeds © Shawn Brackbill
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