I was a pretty nerdy kid in high school. I dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons, had a near-encylopedic knowledge of the inner intricacies of the Spider-Man clone saga, and stayed up way too late to watch anime with my other nerdy friends. Somewhere along the way, I got into punk rock (thanks, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater!)–but my friends never really accompanied me in my exploration of angst and anarchy.
Luckily, a 17-second song entitled “I Like Food” on Fat Wreck Chords’ Short Music for Short People compilation opened my eyes to a world where nerdiness and punk rock lived in harmony. In that world, there were nerds just like me who were bad at talking to girls, had issues with society at large, reveled in their own nerdiness, and were not above a liberal amount of fart jokes.
That was the world of ALL–the world of the Descendents.
Forming way back in 1977 and releasing their first album in 1982, Descendents’ first album in twelve years, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, is much better than it has any right to be. The guys are all in their 50s now, so juvenile diatribes about diarrhea aren’t on the docket for the new album, but they prove that you’re never too old to feel like you don’t fit in. “No Fat Burger” is a direct sequel to the aforementioned “I Like Food,” in which vocalist Milo Aukerman laments that he can no longer partake in greasy burgers and cheesy fries. “Good on Paper,” like “Mass Nerder” before it, features Aukerman boasting about his intellectual prowess, but also admitting to his social and romantic shortfalls. It’s nice to see that the band are able to explore the same lyrical themes after all this time without seeming to rehash the past–and even more impressively, they play just as good as they did 10, 20, 30 years ago.
Aukerman’s voice is ever-so slightly different than it was on 2004’s Cool to Be You, but after a few spins (and you’re gonna listen to this album 2 or 3 times in a row), it sounds like the same old Aukerman. Drummer Bill Stevenson can still maintain speed, even after having a brain tumor removed in 2010, bassist Karl Alvarez still has the signature bouncy sound adapted from original bassist Tony Lombardo, and guitarist Stephen Egerton is among the best shredders on the planet.
I cannot stress this enough, but Descendents seriously sound just as good as they did on Everything Sucks 20 years ago.
At 16 songs (and with 5 more on the SpazzHazard EP and a flexi disc available from New Noise Magazine), Hypercaffium Spazinate is just a little bit too long–cutting 3 or 4 songs would have made the album hit even harder. The album opener “Feel This” is probably the least Descedents-y song here, and “We Got Defeat” switches tempos before it gets a good feeling for itself. Still, Descendents have hit some of their highest highs on Hypercaffium Spazzinate, especially on the self-defeating anthem of “Victim of Me” and the gigantic chorus of “Without Love.” “Smile” and “Comeback Kid” are similarly melodic anthems, and “Beyond the Music” closes the album with the band paying tribute to one another that will fog up even the thickest-rimmed glasses.
Hypercaffium Spazzinate might not be the best place for new nerdy punks to latch on (Milo Goes to College will always fill that void), but it is one of the best punk releases in a year where ‘90s-style punk is back in a big way. Unlike many comeback albums, Hypercaffium Spazzinate never feels like a comeback album–it sounds more like a continuation.
Ricky Vigil spends a lot of time thinking about punk rock and playing video games. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT, where he works with teenagers and wonders what could have been if he had followed his boyhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler. He also makes comics you can read at rickyvigil.tumblr.com