(Self-released, CD, digital download)
On their 2013 self-titled debut EP, Burlington punk trio Black Rabbit offered a glimpse of the band they might become. Though a tad derivative in moments, the brisk, five-song recording suggested a budding promise within the minds of husband-and-wife duo Marc and Darlene Scarano. On their latest effort, the recently released Lipstick and Dynamite, Black Rabbit take a bold, steel-toed-boot-clad step toward realizing that potential.
As on their first record, Black Rabbit remain rooted in 1970s punk and bands such as the Ramones and New York Dolls. But on their latest, they use the iconic sounds of those bands merely as a launching point to explore new avenues. The result is a self-assured and markedly improved album that finds Black Rabbit beginning to truly forge a unique identity.
In particular, front man Marc Scarano boasts a previously unseen swagger. The easy confidence of his disaffected drawl is compelling and infectious. On opener "Black Cat," he snarls with quiet menace over an insistent punk groove. This eventually steamrolls into a proggy, psych-rock breakdown that comes out of left field yet is not too jarring.
"Tarpaulin" coalesces around an efficient guitar riff that sounds like an outtake from the Strokes' Is This It — and that's a good thing. The song itself has more in common with Surfer Rosa-era Pixies, especially in the call-and-response section between the Scaranos.
"Mark My Words" may be the most bracing two minutes of music you'll hear from a local band this year. It's followed by the equally aggressive "Rejected," on which Darlene Scarano tempers her husband's sneering vocals with poppy, beach-blanket backing vocals.
Lipstick and Dynamite vastly improves on its predecessor in production. While Black Rabbit's debut had a degree of lo-fi charm, Robot Dog Studio's Ryan Cohen masterfully tweaks the knobs and faders this time, presenting the band with greater fidelity without losing any of its grit or punch. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album's last two cuts, "The Invisibles" and "Carnage." In particular the aptly titled closing track assaults the ears with a tsunami of guitar crunch and thundering drums — the latter courtesy of drummer Mark Tomase, whose performance is understated but wildly effective throughout.
Tomase has since left the group and was replaced by the excellent Jane Boxall, of Doll Fight! and Steady Betty renown. Given Boxall's aptitude for punk drumming — not to mention her general elite musicality — we might assume the improvement found on Lipstick and Dynamite is only the beginning for Black Rabbit. Stay tuned.
Lipstick and Dynamite by Black Rabbit is available at blackrabbitvt.com. Black Rabbit play the Monkey House this Thursday, July 24, as part of the Girls Rock Vermont! showcase.