There are many albums with punk roots that I feel couldn’t have been made at any other point in time. Whether it’s a classic like London Calling or Siouxsie’s Juju, or something more modern like Death Grip’s Ex-Military or Mannequin Pussy’s Romantic, there is usually a pretty definitive line drawn connecting the music to the where and how of the lives of it’s authors.
The firey, raw confessional approach to lyrics and music struck me when I first started listening to punk and still keeps me coming back for more. This is no different with the fantastic new Doll Baby EP, Hell Block (released 10/13 on Egghunt Records).
Through its 5 songs, singer and guitarist Julie Storey paints shakily urgent and triumphant pictures of what it looks and feels like for her to live in Richmond (and in America) in 2017. The band perfectly wraps around Storey’s songwriting with driving riffs from Eric Kelly on guitar, up-tempo beats from Dan Kelly on drums (Eric’s sibling) and expressive lines from Chris Carreon (Large Margin, Sundials, formerly Blush Face & Atta Girl) on bass.
These songs power by quickly and loudly but leave a lasting impression.
The EP begins with “Alive,” starting with an open ended acoustic chord progression before dropping in a slick, melodic bassline with some thumping low end drum work. Storey’s voice pierces strongly through the hazy progression, “Shedding circles / Making friends / Cleaning pockets / of all their lint,” referencing the mixed emotions that come with thinking critically about the people we keep around. The song explodes and kicks it into high gear around the halfway mark, and hits the refrain with Storey belting the lyrics like she’s trying to remind both the audience and herself “everything is alive.”
We then drop into “For Sylvia,” which starts out with a slinky bass and guitar riff that hits somewhere between Fugazi and The Banshees. Storey pushes out lyrics in her best snarl, evoking a little bit of dark Kim Gordon sass, before the chorus hits. The way this track bounces between the darker, post punky verses and the catchy, punchy chorus definitely leads to repeat listens.
The group slows it down for a second on the intro to “Perfect Posture,” starting out with Storey on an acoustic guitar and some booming percussion accents. The song then unexpectedly erupts into a frustrated critique of many different kinds of “suggestions” society gives us that end up functioning less like suggestions and more like survival tactics. The song then finishes its inundation the way it started, with solely Storey and her acoustic guitar.
This leads into “Softee”, one of the longtime standouts of their live sets that also carries a lot of weight on the EP. This song offers condolences to its subject (referred to only as “Softee”), but also refuses to be a savior or a problem solver where it isn’t right or healthy. In the chorus, Storey sings “Softee I hear you / What do you want me to say? / I tried to help you along / But I can’t think of why to stay / Softee I wish it could be any other way,” pulling at that very difficult moment many of us have had where we must make a decision to try to keep caring for someone else at the cost of personal mental health, or to take care of ourselves. It’s not an easy thing to do for anyone, and this song nails that combination of feeling helpless and sad, but also relieved and clear.
The suspended guitar riff and constant drum roll of EP closer “Silver Stars” reminds me a bit of some of the hazy pop punk inspired goodness on Title Fight‘s Floral Green. The chorus drops the drum roll and brings in an absolutely massive sounding shoegazey chord progression, bringing to mind the heavy and hazy sounds of groups like Cloakroom and early Swervedriver. The song then takes an interesting structural turn, and instead of returning to the original riff, uses the two chorus sections to end in a very different place than it started. This all makes for a really exciting finale to Hell Block.
Doll Baby have all the markings of a great piece of modern and intelligent punk music; strong and convicted, but emotionally in touch and self-critical; independent and angry, but also painfully aware of the system and exhausted of dealing with it.
Hell Block feels, both musically and lyrically, extremely relatable and cathartic as someone who lives in our country in 2017.