Downtown Boys sounded like the world's greatest revolutionary party band on their breakthrough album, 2015's Full Communism, which earned them enough buzz to get the group signed to one of America's biggest indie labels, Sub Pop. But a lot can happen in two years, both for the band and the world around them, and what seemed like a weird joke in 2015 became a troubling reality for the left when Donald Trump somehow won the presidency in late 2016. The stakes seem higher for people demanding radical political change in America, and Downtown Boys' Sub Pop debut, 2017's Cost of Living, reflects that. Produced by Guy Picciotto of Fugazi in tandem with engineer Greg Norman, Cost of Living is a tougher and leaner effort than Full Communism, with the group's abundant energy even more tightly focused. The group also went from having two sax players to one who doubles on keyboards (Joe DeGeorge), with Joey La Neve DeFrancesco's guitar taking up more space in the mix, and while you can still dance to this music, the overall tone is less joyous and more urgent, not a party so much as a rally calling all in hearing range to action. Downtown Boys have an even greater sense of purpose on Cost of Living, and lead singer Victoria Ruiz rises to the challenge, shouting with all the fire and commitment she can muster and then some. Her lyrics are impassioned rabble-rousing that speaks clearly to both the head and the heart, and the gritty wail of her delivery is a thing made from pure, unsullied belief, both in English and Spanish. In the world of the Downtown Boys, nothing is easy, but if theirs is an uphill climb, it's a journey as important as life itself; as Ruiz sings in "Lips That Bite," "There is always a way out," and Cost of Living is about finding that path and following it all the way to the end.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming