When I was contacted about New Orleans, LA's Casual Burn a little over a week ago, seeing phrases such as "surf undertones" and "noisy freakouts" combined with loose references to legends such as Siouxsie Sioux and Alice Bag that I'm aware of but not particularly familiar with left me unsure as to whether or not this was gonna be for me. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by their interesting and unique approach to frenetic punk rock.
Following the Talk Bad cassette (2016) and Tomorrow Problem 7" (2017), the group's eight-song/25-minute debut LP, Mean Thing, will be out later this week through Handstand Records (pre-order the vinyl, or pre-save the album on Spotify). I'm still not quite sure how to accurately describe it, but I was hooked within minutes. My collection is admittedly lacking in some of the areas that would prominently feed into this niche, but my ears are reminded me of early-'80s west coast punk that's memorable yet noisy and with some slick little dark melodic undercurrents—all balled up within an effectively garage-y recording aesthetic.
Check out "Baggage"—my personal favorite track from Mean Thing—below, followed by a brief interview with guitarist David Sabludowsky and vocalist Monet Maloof (with some added input from Handstand Records' Will Cole):
Mean Thing strikes me as Casual Burn's most diverse outing to date—improving upon the core aesthetic that was present in your past efforts by highlighting the atmospheric contrasts, tempo shifts, etc. For example, there's more of a quirky-catchy energy to the midpaced moments, whereas some of the faster and more unhinged segments lean even farther toward chaotic psych-noise outbursts. Was all of this just a natural outcome, or did you head into the writing expecting to make certain refinements or experiment a little more?
David: I think it's safe to say that it's mostly a natural outcome. If anything, I started using much more of the whammy/tremolo bar on my guitar after Talk Bad, because I felt like I wasn't really seeing any other bands use them currently. I had it in mind that I wanted us to evolve and wanted to use the whammy bar to add a deranged effect to our music. We also had a better recording setup this time around, and therefore had the means to highlight certain parts of our songs that needed to stand out. I did want to evolve as a band, but so far only with small steps, and I've never been sure of the stylistic direction anyway.
Monet: I think our first record is a lot lighter—kinda a teasy party album. With Mean Thing, I wanted to touch the root of the energy behind all the debauchery and fun, which ended up being something a little more intense. There are definitely elements of it lyrically that project a lot of those negative feelings onto a mythical or supernatural entity (especially on the title track) as a means of unpacking a lot of darker feelings that are not always so easy to deal with head-on.
We're premiering "Baggage," and while the LP is by no means one-sided, this piece still stands apart as being a little slower, slightly more melodic, and one of the darker-sounding tracks (at least to start, seeing as it does explode toward the end). Talk a bit about this particular composition...
David: I personally don't think it sounds dark, so we'll have to agree to disagree on that one [laughs]. "Baggage" was actually a recycled and more evolved version of a song that I wrote in 2011. The 2011 version is much faster and angrier. I was trying to keep momentum with our songwriting, so I reached into my personal repertoire for a song that could work for Casual Burn. For the new version, I added melody and wanted it to be a song that people could dance to. Of course, it doesn't work out like that for the whole song.
How did you get set up with Handstand Records for the release of the new LP?
David: We had been looking for labels for a minute, but mostly in the punk communities that were putting out new punk/hardcore. Sometimes, there seemed to be a label that was doing punk but was also still eclectic in their releases. In the back of my head, I kept thinking that a punk label may not know what to do with this album because of its diversity. At some point, we were ready to move forward, so I made a post on Instagram that just said "Labels?" written on a piece of paper. I saw the post was liked by Handstand Records, who I hadn't heard of before. I ended up checking out the label and seeing that it had some records from the label who released our 7" (Slugsalt Records) in stock, and also I think music from Neck Chop Records as well as some current punk bands that I'm familiar with. There were also some other bands from completely outside of that scene on the website/Instagram, so it showed that Will was pretty well-rounded in his tastes—which is a plus for us, as I didn't want to play music with people who I thought would be cliquey and want our music to reflect that. Last of all, I briefly lurked his Instagram page to get an idea of who we would be working with, and he seemed like the kind of guy who we'd meet on tour and end up not wanting to part ways with. That does happen sometimes, but it's rare. If you need a short answer: Instagram.
Will: Casual Burn first came on my radar last year when Tom from Slugsalt Records emailed me about carrying some of his releases in the Handstand distro. The Tomorrow Problem 7" looked especially enticing, and I immediately loved the songwriting and the overall vibe of the record. They were decidedly a punk band, but their sound was hard to pin down. I was eager to hear what they'd do next, and had them on a mental short list of bands I'd like to work with. So, when David reached out to me after I reacted to his post about labels, how could I say no?
You've done a good bit of touring over the past few years, should we expect that to continue/increase on the heels of Mean Thing hitting the streets?
As a voracious devourer of music, I always like to ask questions of this nature when I enjoy a band such as Casual Burn, but can tell that you're drawing from a pool of influences that's probably outside of my general realm of experience, so... what are some albums you'd recommend to fans of Casual Burn as having been in any way significant to the formation of the band's own unique approach?
David: The B-52's self-titled album and Wild Planet. The first three Wire albums, but mostly Pink Flag. Funhouse and Raw Power, by The Stooges. Locust Abortion Technician and Hairway to Steven, by the Butthole Surfers. The Modern Dance, by Pere Ubu. Hopefully these all make it on, it's hard not to include some of those albums [laughs]. Sorry if you're expecting something more obscure!
Mean Thing will hit the streets in just a few short days through either LP or streaming. Grab the vinyl from Handstand Records, or pre-save the album on Spotify. Hear more from Casual Burn and the label over at Bandcamp.