Album Review: Downtown Boys – Cost of Living

Downtown Boys
Cost of Living
(Sub Pop)

Chances are if you’ve heard any songs by Rhode Island-based punk provocateurs Downtown Boys, you’ll probably know that at the outset that any music they will make is going to be visceral, vibrant and downright ferocious. That sort of focused cataclysm permeates itself throughout their catalog. Seriously, any band that can somehow make Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” sound like a demand has a special kind of power. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that their third album (and first for Sub Pop), Cost of Living is so far the perfect summation of the downtown Downtown Boys. It’s angry, it’s political and it reaches for you instead of waiting for you to come to it.

Produced by former Fugazi member Guy Picciotto, Cost of Living seems to have captured some of his old band’s intensity. Opener “A Wall” has a slow burn intro reminiscent of Black Flag’s “Rise Above”. There’s an implication that the song might be a critique on the current white House administration. Vocalist Victoria Ruiz breaks it down: the broad side/to the hidden side/a wall is a wall/a wall is just a wall,” while she’s answered with a blunt “fuck it” background vocal. It’s an entirely thrilling track and sets a frenetic tone going forward. “Promissory Note” follows not long after, a defiant track assuring it’s subject that Ruiz – or the band – will not back down to anyone that assumes they have power over another.

Cost of Living feels purposeful in statement, but in no way that should undercut the musicality of the band. The guitars on this album feel raw without being rough, backed by rhythm section that swings right into your gut. Then, there’s the saxophones, like on songs like “Violent Complicity” and “Lips That Bite” that sound like jet engines, reminiscent of the X-Ray Spex. It’s an awesome choice Downtown Boys have made as part of their sonic palette, adding heft to some already seriously titanic jams.

If one thing’s for certain, Cost of Living is the sound of Downtown Boys now. It’s a near-flawless statement and the best example of their sound and identity, but it’s hard to think that this is anything other than a thesis statement to the general public. As they grow as a band, they will certainly become more ambitious as their voices grow louder. Like they say on ‘I’m Enough (I Want More)” – “And all the days go by/Only one will remain”. It might be a little out of context here, but that’s all the answer. Their ambition is their motivation. The fight rages on, and so will Downtown Boys.

Purchase the album here.

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