There’s a small but definite difference between a band that is influenced by an era and one that copies it. Over the past year or two, I’ve gone to countless shows in dark and beer-drenched local venues where punk band after punk band try – and fail – to recreate the work of acts like the Replacements, Husker Dü, or Babes in Toyland. Most come off as a tribute band of sorts, mimicking their favorite bands in hopes that they can become the Ian MacKaye or Courtney Love of the current generation, only to release a much inferior product to what came before them. Very rarely does a band come around that not only sounds like their heroes, but feels like them, releasing an album that could seemlessly be placed on the same shelf in a record collection featuring those legendary acts of yesteryear. Oklahoma stepsister duo Skating Polly did just that on their fourth record, The Big Fit.
Though multi-instrumentalists Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse were born about a decade after the origins of the riot grrrl movement, their music certainly embodies it. Having previously opened for their heroes Babes in Toyland and L7, Skating Polly have released an album that represents a sort of passing of the torch to a generation more likely to discover late ‘80s and early ‘90s punk rock on Spotify rather than rummaging through a record store.
At its best, Skating Polly’s self-described “ugly pop” is a snarling, furious cyclone of punk rock. Tracks like “Purfume for Now” and “Nothing More Than a Body” represent much more than FIDLAR-esque teenage angst, playing like perfectly crafted early ‘90s alternative college radio rock. “Hey Sweet” ups the ante as distorted instrumentals threaten to swallow the girls’ screaming entirely. These are songs that thousands of punk bands around the country would kill to be able to write – Mayo and Bighorse managed to do it before they were old enough to legally drink or even attend the shows that they’re selling out.
The Big Fit, however, refuses to be a straight up punk record. On a couple occasions, Skating Polly break up the flow with pop-leaning piano ballads that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Fiona Apple album. Though these are honorable attempts at a poppier sound, they seem a little out of place here, serving almost as a distraction to the mission statement of the record as a whole. These aren’t bad songs by any means, but The Bit Fit feels a bit less succinct as a result of their inclusion.
Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse’s fourth album is an inspiring effort, one that encapsulates the best aspects of their punk forefathers and mothers. They do their heroes proud and create something that not only lives up to those legendary records of two and a half decades ago, but stacks up favorably when compared side-by-side. Skating Polly is onto something here, and when you consider their age – Mayo was born this millennium, for god’s sake – it’s clear that they’re just getting started. Though The Big Fit is one of the strongest punk records in recent memory, the best may still be yet to come.