Kebab Disco

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Kebab Disco Review

by Fred Thomas

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Scottish immigrant Allan McNaughton worked in Bay Area bands Giant Haystacks and Airfix Kits, writing stripped-down and immediate punk songs that fell between the wiry-yet-direct approach of the Minutemen and more jagged '80s post-punk fare. When McNaughton was joined by Airfix Kits drummer Phil Lantz and Terry Malts bassist Phil Benson for the formation of the new band Neutrals in 2016, they continued on a similar path as McNaughton's earlier groups, but shed some of their youthful vitriol for a more thoughtful and contemplative take on punk. Their debut album, Kebab Disco, walks through a quasi-autobiographical string of songs that seem rooted in McNaughton's experiences, telling the story of a young artist leaving Glasgow for San Francisco but facing similar tribulations when he gets to the place he thought would solve all his problems. The minimal instrumentations, bright guitar, zippy tempos, and repeated references to art school bring the Jam to mind, especially on concise pop numbers like "I Can Do That" and "Technical College." Where Paul Weller sounded ferocious and driven on the earliest Jam records, McNaughton opts for a less energetic style, speak-singing in straightforward observations and anecdotes that only sometimes rise above a mumble. This hardly detracts from Neutrals' appeal, instead servicing the group's vivid lyrical narratives on stand-out songs like "24 Pictures of You" and "Hate the Summer of Love," where trying to re-create the energy of another era of punk would just come off disingenuous. The band is at their best when their mix of styles supports the directness of the lyrics. The lazy pop of "Motorcycle Cop" sits somewhere between Arab Strap's sleepy drawling and Television Personalities' scrappy pop. The loose conceptual threads of Kebab Disco are an interesting aside, and deeper listening can trace connections between the songs. Taken tune by tune, the album is an excellent collection of terse melodies, unique storytelling, and scraping pop.

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