Vintage Crop – ‘Kibitzer’ review: Withering, well-honed garage punk

Sharp and sarcastic as ever, the Geelong punks make quick work of corporate culture and ruminate on wars both figurative and literal

Vintage Crop have always been equal parts articulate and acidic, arming their blurted garage punk with memorable lyrics and a mocking tone. For instance, the Geelong quartet’s 2017 debut album, ‘TV Organs’, guitarist/vocalist Jack Cherry dryly held forth on the perils of online dating and the many possible causes behind a cracking headache.

But such snarky commentary usually comes from Vintage Crop unsolicited, and the band acknowledge their penchant for poking into other people’s business with the name of their fourth album. ‘Kibitzer’ is a Yiddish term describing someone who looks on from afar and offers unwanted advice – think a backseat driver in social situations. Copping to that tendency and then naming an album after it is Vintage Crop’s way of admitting that it may not have exactly been helpful.

That doesn’t mean this record sands down Cherry’s sharp tongue, however. If anything, he’s sharper and more sarcastic than ever. But he’s now deploying his tactics more carefully, tackling wider systemic rot rather than interpersonal strife. Corporate lingo and culture is a particular bugbear for him, as he makes clear in his other band, Dragnet, as well as on Vintage Crop’s 2019 single ‘Company Man’.

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Those themes stand out most on this album’s back-to-back critiques of war both figurative and literal. Kicking off with a scratchy guitar hook before the whole band jumps in with a spring-loaded snap, ‘Drafted’ borders on Parquet Courts-style talk-singing as Cherry mulls the idea of sacrifice for an unjust cause. It’s not merely about military conscription – it’s also about giving yourself over to something just because you’ve been told to. Similarly, ‘The Bloody War’ likens the struggles of everyday life to an unending conflict where a sense of self is usually the first thing to go, making footnotes of us all.

Musically, the band have only gotten tighter and catchier, honing a fuller and harder-hitting attack. Recorded in a single session at a former apple orchard, ‘Kibitzer’ charges forward with an anxious drive that recalls kindred spirits Civic and Pinch Points. Vintage Crop’s lyrics follow suit, echoing Pinch Points’ frequent repurposing of hollow workplace mantras. While portraying a sense of extreme dislocation in a city setting, ‘2k Hip Pocket’ calls out empty gestures like “Within a few short weeks, someone will get back to you.

The especially taut and controlled ‘Hold the Line’ wields telemarketer terminology in much the same way, while damning themes of competitive success come up on ‘Double Slants’ and elsewhere. But there are softer moments, too, as when ‘Impact of Wisdom’ balances the influence of ‘Pink Flag’-era Wire with a closing horn arrangement from guest Heidi Peel. Unlike punk bands’ common use of discordant sax passages, it’s bright and downright buoyant, again suggesting that the band are looking for less obvious ways to do things.

Between the withering words and the locked-in playing, ‘Kibitzer’ is the most cohesive and repeatable statement from Vintage Crop yet. As Cherry sings on ‘Casting Calls’: “We’re rolling, we’re winding back the tape / We’re getting better with each take.” It’s a commitment that’s both artistic and philosophical, describing both the recording process, and the need to revisit your mistakes and address them in the name of personal growth.

Details

  • Release date: June 24
  • Record label: Antifade/Upset the Rhythm
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