TAFKAVince Band—as the ensemble is commonly abbreviated—has been around for going on thirty years (it formed in 1996), which is more than sufficient time for its members to have achieved a burnished synthesis; a seamless, intuitive coming together. But they haven’t exactly done that. Just a few minutes into their new EP, you could swear you were listening to a band whose furious, raw performances might be the result of about two months’ worth of rehearsals in someone’s parents’ garage, and that their median age was about a decade shy of that thirty-years-together mark.
This is not, however, a complaint. These are the anarchic times—even more so than the late seventies—and it’s rock’s responsibility to splash the acid of discontent into our faces. This is no time for numbness or comfort; we need to feel the edge of the blade.
But where TAFKAVince Band’s age does come into play is in the lyrics. Even the EP’s title, “A Problematic Opera,” reflects complexity rather than sweeping generalization. Though self-evidently influenced by the bygone pinnacle of punk, the record isn’t a howl of nihilism or subversion; it’s a self-aware, often very witty reflection on ambiguity and shifting perspectives.
The first tune sets you right on that course: vocalists Vince SanFilippo and Lauren Kurtz sing, “Staring at the flyer hanging from the lamppost,” and you immediately picture them checking out an upcoming gig at some new dive club. But the tune continues:
Turn around and look into the sun
Burning in your eyes, recalls better days
Like a cool breeze I know the time will blow you away
This moment has an expiration date
You thought it was going to last
The band is keenly aware of context, which is a gift that only comes with age. You feel a brief resurgence of what it’s like, in your twenties, to live in an eternal now, but the feeling doesn’t endure beyond lifting your eyes to the actual world around you. It’s a sobering observation, leavened by some wickedly infectious melody and some seriously slamming instrumentals.
The band continues to show off its old-enough-to-be-another-band’s-parents point of view in tunes like “Magazine Pages,” where they alternately sympathize with and scold today’s wannabe dilettantes: “Expectations around every corner / We’re programed to proceed / No one ever tells you, you have all that you need.”
There is, of course, the by-now obligatory screed against digital media (“Rabbit Hole”):
What you see is what you want
Confusion mixed with a little madness
Turning knobs without a care
Allowing you to be careless
Slipping down the rabbit hole
Dizzy from the fall
Climb back up to surface life
Confused by it all
The tune then segues into borrowed imagery from “Alice in Wonderland,” which is a fairly clever way of illustrating the kind of disjointed narratives we live when we spend our days online.
My favorite tune, “Conquer the World,” is, at five minutes, the longest in the set (four of the six tunes clock in at under three minutes) and the most sophisticated take on our cultural clusterfuck. It begins with a stirring invocation to pick up a sword and join a crusade: “Blinding is the truth you see / Steel cuts through misery / Contemplating changing tides / Selflessness will be your guide / Go forth to conquer the world.” But a few bars later we see how righteousness degrades into delusion and self-interest: “Take it, take it / It’s there for your thrill / Take it, take it / Revel in the kill / Take it, take it / Honest with desire / Take it, take it / Converting all the choir.”
All of this is delivered with breathless brio and furious playing by SanFilippo on guitar, Brian Chinino on drums, Chris Geisler on bass and Vee Sonnets on keys. In fact the band’s energy may be a little too overwhelming; the vocals get swallowed up, and these are vocals you don’t want to lose. Rather than a remix, I’d ask the band simply to add lyrics to its Bandcamp page. Keep everyone happy, including those of us who don’t mind reading along while our face is melted.
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena,” and his literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.