About halfway through Angel Du$t’s jovial third album Pretty Buff, vocalist Justice Tripp is marching to his own beat on the sunny “Bang My Drum” – literally. “I asked my baby girl to stay/She left and took my drum away/Got so many feelings now/I got no way to let it out” bellows Tripp over upbeat acoustic strums and a goddamn saxophone solo. It’s a stark contrast to the Baltimore band’s pummeling 2016 release Rock The Fuck On Forever, as the band (featuring members of hardcore champions Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile) trade in the aggression for some alt-leaning pop-rock reminiscent of seminal 90s bands such as The Lemonheads, R.E.M. and the Violent Femmes.
Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile have never played by anyone’s rules, so why would Angel Du$t suddenly do so? Pretty Buff is a complete 180 sonically from those two band’s releases over the past two years (2017’s Heatwave and 2018’s Time & Space, respectively) yet maintains all the charisma and spark you’d expect from such a supergroup. The impact is felt immediately during the album’s first four tracks – clocking in cumulatively at under ten minutes – as Angel Du$t unleash these quick jabs to get the energy pulsating through your body. “No Fair” is the jangly acoustic vibe that opens the record, while “On My Way” is a sleek toe-tapper containing some of the punch from Rock The Fuck On Forever. Pretty Buff is a middle finger towards cynicism and positivity shines beams through in every way – the surf-rock tempo that paces “Biggest Girl” along with the rockabilly flavor flowing through “Let Me Know” being prime examples (buoyed by the expert playing from the band’s rhythm section of drummer Daniel Fang and bassist Jeff Caffey).
I’ve always believed that the ethos of punk is a state of mind and not how loud a guitar sounds and Angel Du$t lives and breathes that non-conformity throughout Pretty Buff. Honestly, it’s a fucking power move to sign to a major label known for its heavy metal releases and then put out 13 tracks unashamedly embracing the highs of pop-rock and beyond. Even when guitarists Pat McCrory and Brendan Yates amp up their riffs, it’s done in a way to compliment the melodies on “Where I Am” and “Five” instead of overpowering them.
The overarching image I get from Pretty Buff is courtesy of the first visual the band released for “Bang My Drum.” The vibrant face adorning the record’s cover is seen here in mascot form as the camera follows Benny Revival’s totally excellent adventure boogying through cites like New York and Los Angeles. It’s an exuberant and infectious clip that perfectly encapsulates everything Angel Du$t set out to accomplish on Pretty Buff – dancing defiantly in the face of supposed genre norms with one of 2019’s most joyous experiences.