The Coathangers kick off their fourth album with “Follow Me,” a burst of slashing guitar and brutal, stomping drums.
It’s perhaps the best song in the band’s seven-year run, managing to convey both the relentless energy of primitive punk rock and an endlessly listenable charm. The difference between the song on record and the subversive, audacious fun of its video constitutes a sort of statement of purpose for The Coathangers.
Formed before they ever learned their instruments, the band that made a splash with “Nestle In My Boobies” have pushed the jokiness out of their music, but without losing that attitude altogether. The “Follow Me” video shows fellow Atlanta rockers Mastodon enthusiastically acting out a performance, in drag and an inexplicable horse mask.
Guitarist Julia Kugel (Crook Kid Coathanger), bassist Meredith Franco (Minnie Coathanger), drummer Stephanie Luke (Rusty Coathanger) and departed keyboardist Candice Jones (Bebe Coathanger) might have started off as the jesters of second-generation riot grrrls, but The Coathangers have grown more expansive in sound and scope, experimenting with tempos and singalong melodies.
“Follow Me” gives way to “Shut Up,” a surfy vamp built on a tripwire guitar riff. Shouting away with dismissive sneers, The Coathangers cram 40 “shut up!”s into the song’s 2:12.
The attitude on “Shut Up” summarizes the album’s lyrical focus. Hinging on the band’s unassailably independent streak, the songs issue fierce, self-assured cut downs to a series of fakes, losers, abusers, wimps, chumps and those who find themselves aimlessly in the band’s way.
“Love Em and Leave Em” sounds like The Coathangers unearthed a long-forgotten country song, stripped it bare and remade it in their own style. What starts as a grunged-up version of a country-swing tune abruptly shifts tempo to breakneck punk and back, a dynamic and effective move the band couldn’t have pulled off at its inception.
“Zombie” starts with a thumping, moody bass line and slowly builds with a slinky guitar riff. The result is a tightly controlled sense of menace and impending chaos, an easy song to imagine as the soundtrack to a climactic chase scene in a black-and-white horror film.
The absence of keyboardist Jones is most notable on re-worked versions of several older singles—some for the better, others not so much. “Derek’s Song” in particular sounds leaner, more primitive and vital without the organ riff. But compared to the 2012 single, “Smother” sounds off, a little rigid and formulaic without the balance offered by the organ riff.
For the most part an album of elemental punk and garage rock, Suck My Shirt does follow their Larceny & Old Lace trick of adding a late detour. On their last record, it was the bluesy stomp and barroom piano of “Well Alright” and the surprisingly tender ballad “Tabbacco Rd.” This time, it’s an intriguing two-song experiment that goes from “I Wait,” a hazy, psychedelic tune guided by some ghostly vocal reverb, to “Drive,” which leaps all the way into the downright-catchy territory of bands like Vivian Girls.
After the band’s album-by-album leaps in musical ability and acumen, it’s no surprise finding this much talent behind the band’s jokey exterior, but when they employ it in fresh ways, The Coathangers can sound like an entirely different band. And while having the maturity to evolve seems contrary to The Coathangers’ origin and ethos, it’s the greatest proof they can offer to being a real band.