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Puppies Forever Aug Stone , October 19th, 2021 08:41

Leaping from indie rock guitars ato 80s synths, Kansas City's BLACKSTARKIDS have energy to spare, finds Aug Stone

On Puppies Forever, the band’s fourth release in three years (and what they consider to be their first 'proper' album), BLACKSTARKIDS continue to combine elements of indie rock, 80s pop, hip hop, and whatever else interests them in pursuit of their musical vision. And it’s a catchy, enjoyable listen. Celebratory if not full-on party music, as it tends towards the dreamier rather than raging end of the spectrum. The lyrical preoccupations are: feeling depressed and/or anxious and the ways to cope with this, drinking – mentioned quite a bit – on its own or included as part of the previous, being in love – with all its attendant troubles – and the belief that love will overcome all else, and being young and feeling cool. Album closer ‘Somedaze’ takes on all these themes together.

Highlights include ‘Revolt Syndrome’, ‘Juno’, ‘Jimmy Neutron’, ‘ACAB’, and pretty much anytime TheBabeGabe takes the mic. Her voice is effervescent and gorgeous, full of command and charm. Second song ‘Revolt Syndrome’, whose energy might have made it a more compelling album opener, is reminiscent of The Go! Team’s full-on momentum. ‘So Sweet!’, the song that actually does come first, is pleasant enough with a great melodic chorus of “when your days turn real blue, you can always call on me”. This is lovely, but marred by the use of autotune. The effect is the album’s only detriment. Aside from the annoying sound, it also takes away from the earnestness, the realness, of the band’s lyrics. ‘Juno’ features another great, strong chorus: “who needs another thing to be sad about?” – coming after more mentions of suicide. The band don’t shy away from how low they’ve been at times, and the positive vibes of their tunes therefore act as an anti-depressant. This is fun yet serious music.

‘Jimmy Neutron’ is the most hyper track on the album, dropping f-bombs in line with its title, as the band barrel their way through this party anthem/theme song. The record has been building to this sort of energy and it satisfies when it arrives. In its intensity, ‘All Cops Are Bastards’ takes this even further. Kicking off with the coolest sound on the album, a distorted guitar full of harmonic shimmer, the band launch into a tirade against the police, an issue deeply felt by these three young Black starkids from Kansas City, Missouri. But as the band have all along been on the side of affirmation rather than despair, it also contains the chant “So go, revolt, keep hope”.

On earlier outings, the band merged their indie rock guitars and 80s-esque synths to great effect, though throughout this latest release they’ve been mostly keeping them separate song by song. When these elements do rock out together, as on ‘Clueless America’, it remains a winning combination. As good a listen as Puppies Forever is, it is also a record that makes you want to see the band live, confident that with this as a blueprint they’ll put on a great show. They’ve got the energy and the tunes.