April 13, 2012

The Tough Shits: Shit You Can Understand

Indie rock is all very vague. You never know what the fuck anyone is talking about and you can’t even relate to anything in it. - King Tuff

In the indie world, it's been a trend to obscure your message—it's happened more and more recently, with the whole lo-fi movement and rediscovery of reverb. People over-use effects to cover up what they're trying to say. To me, that feels really noncommittal. - Chris Chu

There's a time and place for pretty but undecipherable reverb-cloaked words, but as King Tuff and Chris Chu both point out, music has the potential to be much more relatable and interesting when artists take the time to write and perform lyrics that are actually accessible to the listener. That dynamic is precisely why I haven't stopped listening to The Tough Shits since February. The Philly band's eponymous debut—out now on Burger Records—is not only one of 2012's best albums, but it's aslo one of the year's most fun and enjoyable, in large part, because of its lyrics. These guys sing about the simple day-to-day goings ons of life in a direct, charmingly witty, and self-deprecating fashion: the "Space Heater" in their apartment, taking the "Chinatown" bus, a couple that fights like "Cats & Dogs," and of course, picking up drugs from the neighborhood "Hombre De La Cocaina."

The Tough Shits play jangly punk-pop and good ole fashioned rock 'n' roll, which is to say, they aren't out to reinvent the wheel. But at the same time, the songs come off as incredibly refreshing because of how prominent, carefully crafted, and clear the lyrics are. In "Cats & Dogs," while a couple is in the midst of a tense fight, the narrator sings about dodging his girlfriend's family, as in this comically melodramatic gem: "I don't want to run into your brother at the post office / I don't want him to know / That I'm sending you a letter / It says 'I want to die.'" There's a wonderful pairing here of late-night beer-stained debauchery ("society groans every time I leave my home") with an unexpected Paul Westerberg-like sensitivity and thoughtfulness, as in "Early Grave," where the group offers its support to a friend on the outs with his friends and job: "If it's attention that you crave, you can get it from me / But don't fall into an early grave." In "She's Through With You," the narration centers on a guy who's that last to know it's over with his girlfriend:
Sitting in your room, just trying to watch the tube. / You're in a bad mood. Your friends are hanging out with your old lady, / She's probably getting naked. / Who's gonna tell you the truth? / I never wanted it to happen this way to you. /  Most dreams don't come true. / She's done and gone and though with you.
"Most dreams don't come true" is the harsh realism The Tough Shits tend to dish out, but at the same time, I can't remember ever laughing out loud with a record as often as I have with these guys. As a listener, you don't just relate to the songs, but rather, it feels like you're sitting around telling stories with a couple of your oldest buddies. And I haven't even mentioned the incredibly tightly delivered instrumentation, wherein tracks forego any thought of soloing for whittled-down two-minute packages filled to the brim with hooks, ear-catching melodies, and many a irresistible harmony-glazed chorus. Screw being vague and obscure: I can't remember the last time I had this much fun playing a record.

Below check out a track from the LP, which you can order now from Burger Records, and an equally great older track.

The Tough Shits - "She's Through With You" (from The Tough Shits)

The Tough Shits - "Heard She Kisses On The Mouth" (from The Tough Shits EP)

The Tough S***s - The Tough Shits

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