Turn of the Screw

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1208's 2002 debut showed plenty of promise, despite its blind adherence to the Cali punk template. That they were champions of Pennywise principal Fletcher Dragge was no surprise -- like those veteran roustabouts, 1208 favored an athletic, almost stripped-down sound dominated by taut vocal and guitar melodies. For Turn of the Screw, 1208 has stretched those melodies even tighter, forsaking their former two-guitar lineup for a muscular three-piece fronted by vocalist Alex Flynn, whose shout is so attuned to the California punk canon, it's entirely possible he began life as a DNA cocktail in the super-secret Epitaph sound labs. As he leads the mates through the thrilling double-time opening salvos of "My Loss" and "Fall Apart," there's no avoiding the debt owed to the Epitaph and Headhunter sound of the mid-'90s (think Offspring and Big Drill Car). Producer Darian Rundall (Deviates, River City Rebels) plays up the comparison, imbuing Turn of the Screw with the flat, even-levels sound typical of West Coast punk combos. But this is the right thing to do, as 1208's material is such a seamless fit. With its chunky power chords and shout-along chorus, "Smash the Badge" just begs for syncing to skateboard highlights. "Next Big Thing" is more shrill with its righteous record-label task-taking, but its martial lead riff is still designed for no-frills consumption. It's this attention to established form that makes 1208 and Turn of the Screw so engaging. As punk revivalism is maligned more and more by the mall rats and emo kids' inexplicable clamor for weepy string sections and tear-stained lyrical couplets, it's encouraging to hear a record that reaches for the ancient history of the late '80s and early '90s for inspiration. 1208's ballads are even charmingly quaint -- the yearning "Everyday" is straight from the school the Replacements and Sugar built. Does this mean 1208 is only copying the paper of an older neighbor? Maybe. Turn of the Screw gets a little ridiculous with "Hurts to Know," which ends up sounding like the Offspring covering Eddie Money's "Think I'm in Love." But darn it if it's not refreshing to hear a record out of California that doesn't simply pick the most popular items off the punk rock menu board and drive on through.

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