Jolly Roger – Kung Fu Grip

“I wonder what this song is about,” is something you’ll never have to ponder when listening to Carbondale, Illinois’ Jolly Roger. You also won’t have trouble figuring out anything about the band themselves. Within the first two songs the listener is informed that the band hasn’t played a show since 2003, that they never really broke up, and also how they selected their name (it’s because they liked it, but not because they’re a pirate band). From the standpoint of someone who has never heard of them and is tasked with having to write about their new record, I found this to be extremely helpful.

Now that we have some background on the group, we quickly arrive at the third song, which is titled “Update”. As you can imagine, this song fills us in on what Jolly Roger and the people they used to sing about have been up to lately (Jared finally got a car, John got an injury, Stinky still smells, etc.). I actually love the concept of starting a new album off with an update on current happenings from characters who appeared in previous songs. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know if methadone worked for Cindy, or if Johnny X ever grew up and became a realtor or something?

Other song topics include Home Alone (“Wet Bandits”), a girl who is punk (“She’s Punk”), John’s retirement (“John’s Retired”), and a song about how they met working in a movie theater together (“Theater Daze”).  “Had lots of regulars, some odd ones that we met. Like crazy popcorn guy and the lady in the helmet.” They close out the album with a 22 second song called “Disclaimer” where they apologize for not working very hard on the actual music, because Ken spent a long time making the cover art. Said artwork depicts a photopshopped old NES game that says “Kung Fu Grip” on it with an image of an 8 bit guitar on the front. 

I would say the most accurate stylisitc comparisons for Jolly Roger would be early Mutant Pop stuff, namely The Automatics, or maybe The Queers when Wimpy was still with them. I like poppy stupid stuff just fine, so long as it strays away from juvenile sexuality (which Jolly Roger is only partially succesful at doing), but the main issue I have with this album is that the production is hard to get past. It’s not that it’s too lo-fi or rough, it’s that everything sounds so separated. Stuffing an iPhone into the insulation of the practice room and pressing record would be an improvement. I imagine Jolly Roger’s budget wasn’t huge for this venture, so it’s completely understandable why the recording is not up to snuff. I just think they might’ve benefitted from doing a quick live run through of the songs using a couple of dangling mics instead.

It may not be apparent by what I’ve wrote so far, but I actually have a real fondness for these guys. They are nerdy old dudes who decided to get their punk band back together, and record an entire album worth of songs. That’s fucking great. It isn’t pretentious, cool, or attempting to accomplish something that it’s incapable of. Will I revisit their Bandcamp page and listen to it again? Maybe not, but that’s not the point. Jolly Roger aren’t in it for the glory, they’re doing it because they appear to have a good time together. Too often people are in bands with people they don’t even like. Maybe it’s more important to have fun with your friends than it is to make art.

–Zach Akenson

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