Neighborhood Brats: California Punks' Confines of Life is Their Best Record Yet (LP PREMIERE)

Neighborhood Brats is a California punk band that formed over a decade ago by vocalist Jenny Angelillo and guitarist George Rager. Perfecting a songwriting style that is melodic and hooky one moment, and ripping with vitriol the next, they've released 2 studio albums and a grip of singles/EPs.

The group has also toured like crazy, including multiple European treks, and headlining and direct support tours throughout North America.

During the pandemic lockdown, Neighborhood Brats recorded what would become their forthcoming third album, Confines of Life, which is their strongest collection yet. I've been playing the fuck out of it since being sent an advance link a few weeks back. 

In this No Echo exclusive, not only do we have the entire album streaming below, but I also spoke with Jenny about the lyrics to the album and how she feels about the various stylistic genre tags they've been labeled with throughout the years.

In terms of the lyrical content on the new record, I know one of the subjects you tackle is the environmental crises. With a subject that vast and heady, how tough was it to narrow down your thoughts into the space of a song?

When [guitarist] George [Rager] and I started playing music together our main goal was to be the ultimate San Francisco party band and just write weird songs about living in the city and play a steady circuit of house shows and dive bars. Yes, we wrote songs about zombie sharks, but because George and I both grew up in the hardcore scene we're mutally aware and concerned with politics, social justice and current events.

We would write tongue in cheek songs like "Lurkin the Loin" which sounds like a funny song about our favorite Tenderloin bars but it was actually calling out these sober guys who would show up at bars at last call to swoop on drunk women. "Total Dementia" and "Stabber" may sound like typical crazy hardcore romps but they tackle the mental illness crisis and homelessness in San Francisco...We wrote about getting roofied...We wrote about how shitty the beach is here.

But George and I as a writing team are usually laser focused on whatever issues are challenging humanity. George will often get an early text when some morning NPR story—whether it's cicadas or how fucked the Miss America pageant is—piques my interest. We had long conversations during the pandemic dissecting the social and economic impact of COVID...so a song like "Who Took the Rain" that talks about global warming and environmental crisis, stemming from the fires happening in Australia in early 2020.

On a drive to work I listened to a podcast where they were interviewing people who were literally driving into burning flames to rescue animals and I pulled over to cry. Those events were heavy on my mind so when George came to me with some music and a title, "Who took the Rain,'' I knew exactly what to write about. We wanted to keep the lyrics simple yet impactful.

George and I have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to writing. We often joke that "the shit just writes itself" because we've been working together for so long our wavelengths coordinate once we have some music and George can look at my writing we are able to put together the puzzle pieces. Yes, we do struggle sometimes—songwriting isn't easy—but if we're both fired up about a topic sometimes it just flows seamlessly.  

“Transitional Housing” is probably my favorite track on Confines of Life, at least, right now it is. I was down in Venice Beach just the other day and thought about the lyrics to your song since you mention it in there. 

George wrote "Transitional Housing" about his time living in Venice in a garbage rental (which I actually never saw) but the bigger theme is how transitional our generation has become and how normalized it is to hop from one residence to the next and never really have a sense of being stable. George told me that he's had something like 12 apartments in 10 years.

That idyllic life of our parents generations of going to college and getting a job in whatever you majored in, or having a trade that you work until retirement, buying a house and living there your whole life, having a family, white picket-fence, etc. Those moral and values aren't real for us.

For George and I, it's been a lot of hustling, moving, quitting jobs, and always living with a sense of temporality that you could literally have to move at any second. I haven't bought a piece of furniture since 2013. I finally bought a TV in 2019. Any time I get settled I have this fear of "how long is this going to last?" Like so many other people our age, we've become comfortable with being transient.

Photo: Miles Claibourn

When I was approached about covering your new record, it reminded me how tricky it can be to crystalize what Neighborhood Brats does/is within the context of a genre tag. There’s certainly very melodic/poppy things going on, but there’s also elements of more classic-sounding hardcore punk in what you do. Do people worry too hard about genre labels?

As long as you don't call us "the female-fronted Black Flag" we're cool. 

I love the fact that in the history of this band we've played pop-punk festivals like Awesomefest, garage festivals like Booze Cruise in Hamburg, and hardcore/crust/D-beat fests like Zorofest in Leipzig and have felt like we fit in at all of them. I think if the crusties like you and kids pogoing wearing skinny ties and drain pipe pants like you then you're doing okay! 

That's what I always loved about going to Cramps shows—besides the fact that they were one of the best bands I ever saw live—you had goth kids, punks, rockabillies, metal heads and weird horror movie nerds all kicking it.

I think the second you try and throw a genre on us it becomes limiting of what you're capable of. I like making the listener guess what we'll throw at them next....
I've been asking to play The Gathering for years and seriously that will be the true test of how genre-busting we can be. 

Confines of Life is out this Friday (May 28th) via Dirt Cult Records. Pre-order the vinyl at this link, and the label's Bandcamp has you covered on the digital side of things.

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