by Paris Fawcett
Each December as the year comes to a close, I’ll take great care in curating my albums of the year list, masochistically revelling in the opportunity to rank the records I’ve listened to so dependently. But as each body of work gets pitted against another, there’s always one that stands out above the rest. It’s predominantly sad punk that finds its way into my heart, often exposing an unhappiness I didn’t know I had. Despite being distanced from my low points, somewhere rooted deep inside my consciousness is the desire to not be happy – and that part loves minor chords. So imagine my surprise when Pkew Pkew Pkew’s Optimal Lifestyles set off on a home run for 2019’s album of the year by being… fun.
This record is for the punks, the poor, the lonely, the fuck-ups and the useless. It’s a powerhouse of straight-up punk rock repeatedly socking you in square in the face and then dragging your dancing body along for the ride. Optimal Lifestyles recognises that fun is the best way through problems: we all go through shit, so why not do it singing?
Punk tends to assign blame to ‘the man’ and outwardly lean towards misanthropy, but Pkew Pkew Pkew are at their best when they look inwards. Tales of alcohol dependencies and self-worth struggles are made explicit in the titles (‘I Don’t Matter At All’ or ‘Drinkin’ Days’, for instance), yet it’s not until you really dig in to the songs themselves that you get to grips with just what’s being said: a cry for help of sorts, and a telling example of how we will ignore the problems in other people until they become unavoidable. It’s one of those occasions where you look back and realise that all the signs were there, you were just too stupid to realise. Or perhaps you never really wanted to.
“’Cause I can’t sit back and be lax anymore
I can’t just hope all my problems will go and solve themselves
Or wait for somebody else
I’ve made my choice and I’ll see it through
You’re not a burden on me
But am I a burden on you?”
Creating songs that turn mundane life events into euphoria, Pkew Pkew Pkew litter the record with catchy one liners and choruses to set crowds alight; to get you two-stepping down supermarket aisles or dancing with your dog at 5am. These aren’t fleeting moments either – they’re present on each and every song.
The level of fun on Optimal Lifestyles is relentless, but nothing comes close to the joy of penultimate track ‘Adult Party’. In a bridge that will enter the pantheon of great song moments, the band break down into a crowd chanting, “Rich kids, go fuck yourselves. If there’s some in the audience or somewhere else. Rich kids. Go fuck yourselves.” Punk and DIY culture has been dominated for years by masquerading rich kids, but Pkew Pkew Pkew open up the floor for a new kind of crowd to come through. This record speaks out directly to the people who will find their place within music, a community full of misfits who should be able to attend a gig and feel like they belong.
Growing up I’ve always struggled to understand how it’s possible to feel like I’m both having the best time and wasting my life. This record lives somewhere very similar, hidden between words crafted to make you dance are intricacies exploring the real dichotomies of life. Diving deeper into these songs of youth, partying and friendship shows a desperation to stay young, a recognition that it was fine to fuck up then, but where does that leave us now? This isn’t new ground in punk and that’s why every few years the themes of Optimal Lifestyles will get repeated by another band, each time capturing the heart of those who feel the same.
“The plans we made didn’t turn out right
The liquor store
And we were waiting outside
Had the best intentions
Probably got in a fight
Yeah, the plans we made never turned out right
The plans we make never turn out right”
When it comes to December and I reflect on this record, having sat on it for ten months, I think every second of it will have seeped into my pores. Already it has defined the close of my teenage years, many of which have been spent feeling anxious and alone, turning to bands like Spanish Love Songs or Touché Amoré to find someone who understands. And while I’ll probably always do this, Pkew Pkew Pkew have made me realise something I think I always knew: sometimes you’ve got to deal with your problems by singing louder than you ever knew possible. There are times to be sad, but Optimum Lifestyles has dragged me into my twenties wanting to tear the world apart, and that is punk rock.