Officer May – Smoking in A Minor

Officer May
Smoking in A Minor

In a time when retro-minded garage-rock bands are being promoted as the next big thing, it’s becoming hard to remember what exactly a garage-rock band was supposed to be in the first place. There’s a reason why they were called garage bands: because that was the quality of their sound. The rawness, the edginess, the lack of big studio budgets were all parts of the garage band’s big appeal. It’s so tough now to see bands backed by major labels thriving under the label garage while their producers are going out of their way to mix rough edges into the final glossy product.
But Boston’s Officer May sounds like they were ripped right out of the garage. Somewhere between the harshness (but not tired cliché) of grunge and hard rock, Officer May’s new album is 12 tracks of ripping, powerful guitar riffs, angry percussion, and throbbing bass. Singer Chris Warren’s voice is gravelly and rough, belting out tunes with a kind of old-school punk aesthetic.
The melodic underlying guitar line on “Casual Comfort” is a nice contrast to the throbbing bass and drums and the angular guitars. Big punk-rock songs like “The Big Bang” and “The Big Picture is a Grey Photo Fading” are all-out efforts of huge guitar riffs and shouted vocals, while other songs like “Time is Taking its Sweet Time” are just pure intensity, from blazing guitars to almost desperately shouted vocals. Think early Clash or Sex Pistols, maybe even with a dose of the Cramps, on “My Heart the Boomerang,” my favorite song on Smoking in A Minor because of the sheer pleasure the band takes in rocking out, even throwing in some stops and starts that fit the song perfectly. Just as fun, “Bad Blood” makes you want to dance along, as the singer belts out “over and over and over and over again!”
There’s even a dose of old-school punk sensibility on “Police Parade,” as Warren sings, “Sirens sing freedom will ring like a drug stink” and “Parents will lie about things they know about / kids are finding out the hard way.” Some of the songs here show off the softer side of Officer May. Even Warren’s voice has a softer touch on “Fashion,” although the song is still pretty abrasive. “Slow Burn” and “Song That Goes Nowhere” bring in some acoustic guitar and get very moody at times, an approach I’d love to see the band use to a greater extent.
Officer May has equal parts of Local H’s grunge rock and Hot Water Music’s hardcore-infused rock, all with a dash of lo-fi roughness that contributes to the band’s sound. That’s the point: I doubt anyone will polish the edges off Officer May, and all the more power to the band for that. I’m sick to death of glossy bands trying to ride the garage-rock fad; instead, let’s find the bands who are really making edgy garage rock and doing it well.