(Sharawaji Records, CD, digital)
Brand New Luddites are more or less exactly what you'd expect, given their name: a vehemently anti-tech punk-rock outfit broadcasting from the woods of Vermont. Their debut LP, Terms & Conditions, is packed full of loud, catchy songs that are completely committed to the propaganda of an anti-technology revolution. This is not just shtick — this is war. (But it is also shtick.)
If you're just joining us, the Luddites are humanity's last hope against Vermont's premier purveyors of "robotic surf punk," the Tsunamibots. The Luddites — whose ranks include Colonel Malware, Private Power Surge, Corporal Blue Screen of Death and Captain Virus — made their debut on the 2018 split project Man vs Machine, an epic duel against their human-crushing robot counterparts. (Make what you will of the fact that the bands share certain sonic and vocal similarities — OK, they're almost exactly the same.)
While the Tsunamibots are content to shred through instrumentals, these Luddites are preachers with a message. In-jokes and heavy sarcasm abound throughout the record, but the band's social critique hits hard — especially in an unexpected new era in which humans are mostly locked away at home, viewing the world through their screens.
From a purely technical standpoint, the Luddites absolutely rip. Years of experience crafting tight tunes have birthed a rock-solid set of deceptively simple songs. Each is comically overblown, every line a rallying cry to smash the machines. But the album is also full of clever, cutting observations about the laziness, snap judgments and E-Z extremism that our modern technology enables — especially social media and smartphones.
The secret to the Luddites' formula is their songwriting range and wickedly funny storytelling. Witness the opening lament, "The Internet Took My Baby," or the slice-of-life vignettes of "Poison Electricity." From the latter: "Postapocalyptic John / Well, he knows what's going on / It's no more birds, no more bees / With all these robots on TV."
The centerpiece of the album, though, is "Fight Back," the clearest manifesto in the band's catalog to date.
Terms & Conditions marks another strong project for Ryan Cohen, the mad-scientist proprietor of Robot Dog Studio in Williston. (Presumably, no robot dogs were hurt during the recording of this LP, but I cannot guarantee that.) Guitars snarl, bass thumps, and drums are powerful and clear — everything you'd want from a punk album. What's more, Cohen understands the overeducated meta-pastiche this crew is going for, and his production touches enhance the LP's impact.
Unfortunately, the Mandatory Anti-Android Uprising Record Release Party that the Luddites had planned for this Saturday, April 4, was canceled due to the plague, along with everything else. Still, that's a pretty damn punk-rock reason to lose a gig, right?
Terms & Conditions is a dynamite punk set. Ironically enough, it's also a timely, welcome and powerful distraction from the ongoing apocalypse. Give this puppy a spin, as loud as you possibly can.
Terms & Conditions will be available at tsunamibots.bandcamp.com on Friday, April 3.