If the name Publicist UK may seem unfamiliar, the band members themselves should certainly ring a bell. This project includes several metal veterans, including guitarist David Obuchowski (Goes Cube), bassist Brett Bamberger (Revocation), and drummer Dave Witte (Municipal Waste/every band ever). At this point, you’re probably thinking that this will be an incredible thrash album. Sorry to piss on your parade, but the band bio describes this as an “innovative and dynamic take on post-punk.” Translated into non-hyperbole, that means “thrash dudes playing ’80s bummer rock in the vein of Joy Division and The Cure.” Or, to quote my friend who heard this playing in my car: “Dude, is this Beastmilk?”
The wild card of the lineup is vocalist Zachary Lipez (Freshkills), who is equal parts asset and liability. Yes, his voice is very reminiscent of Joy Division‘s Ian Curtis, and while that’s not particularly original, he does sound powerful. However, sometimes his lyrics and delivery are distractingly boneheaded. “Levitate The Pentagon,” an otherwise solid song with a standout chrous, is blemished by Lipez trying his hardest at a “deep” spoken-word rant about strip clubs and STDs. There’s also the bluntly-titled “I Wish You’d Never Gone To School,” in which Lipez (perhaps unintentionally) subverts “college rock” to slam intellectualism and political awareness. Or maybe I’m overthinking it?
The Sisters of Mercy-ish “Telegraphing” offers a much-needed tempo change, but is quickly derailed by some poor songwriting choices and unnecessary female backing vocals. Similarly, the morose slow jam “Blood Relative” sounds like it’s assembled out of disparate, unrelated sections of music. The album also suffers from poor flow, often putting songs that sound extremely similar back-to-back, and throwing in the more intense tracks at seemingly random times.
Obuchowski’s guitar work is on point throughout, delivering the jangly chords and atmospheric lead work that the genre demands. Bamberger occupies a surprising amount of sonic space, his basslines throbbing underneath the echoing guitars and vocals. Dave Witte’s legions of fans will be disappointed to learn that he mostly plays the role of timekeeper here. His performance is both solid and tasteful, but not necessarily remarkable. Lipez, to his credit, has a way with massive and memorable choruses, some of which have lodged firmly in my brain.
Oddly, as hard as Publicist UK is trying to sound like 1981, the music and atmosphere remind me very much of the early 2000’s post-metal scene. Picture the aforementioned Ian Curtis fronting Isis or perhaps Jesu, and you’re getting close. This band controls song dynamics via “OK, here’s where the heavy guitars and louder drums come in,” which makes them harder-hitting than their influences, but also betrays their metal roots. Similarly, the album’s production lands squarely on the metal side of the fence, with Witte’s drums sounding particularly digital and compressed. That Beastmilk comparison may have been correct in theory, but Publicist UK feels very different in practice.
Despite never quite sealing the deal, Publicist UK is an interesting idea with an incredible amount of potential. All the raw elements are there musically, and the band’s skills and influences are in the right place. Even Lipez seems capable of great things, despite my criticism of him. Some tighter songwriting may be in order, and that will likely happen if the band continues on. More importantly, I would like to see Publicist UK expand on their source material and bring something new to the post-rock table.