Summer Of Punishment
Milwaukee’s premier purveyors of shaggy guitar rock, Sat. Nite Duets, try their damndest to be frivolous. On 2010’s One Nite Only and 2011’s Wilder Dreams, hardly a minute goes by without a wink or a self-conscious, dude-friendly nod. The band’s gloriously random and lo-fi videos have been just as silly. (A tiger playing air guitar on a chainsaw in a bathtub? Sure.) But on the excellent new Summer Of Punishment, Sat. Nite Duets let their guard down and reveal some genuine concerns, if only for a moment. Sure, there are still plenty of lyrics about getting shit-faced and carpooling with AC/DC, but scratch the shambling surface and you’ll find a wistful, winning tribute to gauzy nostalgia and misspent summer youth.
Nowhere does that heady theme resonate more strongly than on Summer’s best track, “Of Age.” Amidst the band’s well-honed (and yes, Pavement-worshipping) sound, a bittersweet tale of “wasting your 20s” is sketched out with remarkable clarity and humor. “Growing up can only be so hard” is the sort of effortless, tossed-off line that Sat. Nite Duets have long excelled at, but the band outdoes itself with the terrifically evocative lyric, “Take your handle off the bars and fly, / pretty soon it’s going to be July.” There’s no amount of gags or snickering references that can take the edge off a line like that.
Not that Summer is ever cloying or precious: “Way Behind My Age Group” showcases the band at its goofy best, while opener “Collegiate Metal Freak” scores points with a surprisingly nimble melody, shouted backing vocals, and Dinosaur Jr.-invoking lead guitar. Even jokey story-songs like the caffeinated “WWDD” (that would be “What Would De Niro Do?”) or the “Crimson And Clover”- and “The Tide Is High”-cribbing “Off The Chain” leave a lasting impression. But the album is at its best when it gets slyly introspective (see also: the lovely and resigned “Chiller Pastures”), and uses humor not as a shield, but instead as a gateway to a shared past stuffed with lost summers and wasted potential. Slacker ennui has never sounded better.
(Sat. Nite Duets celebrate the release of Summer Of Punishment Jan. 14 at Turner Hall.)