Pardoner’s Carefree Quips Hold More Weight on Peace Loving People

The San Francisco quartet turn doomscrolling through the algorithm into a charismatic, heartfelt punk album

Music Reviews Pardoner
Pardoner’s Carefree Quips Hold More Weight on Peace Loving People

I don’t envy rock and roll bands. Their job is no longer merely to get us dancing. They are competing with all our incessant bullshit: “Are you wearing that flannel ironically, bro?” “Have you heard, Die Kruezen is out, and now Stereolab is in?” Rock and roll bands need to deal with stan culture, with The Algorithm, with our fly-by-night attention spans—our podcasts, playlists, zines, Depop shops and Substacks. They need to make us laugh, feel, mosh and, okay, maybe dance, too, if they have time. They need to change with the times, and they need to do it all for free.

Pardoner are one rock and roll band that rise to this challenge. Riffing and quipping across society’s uneven terrain, the San Francisco quartet decry everyone from trend-hoppers to NRA jagoffs to themselves, cognizant of where their art lands in the late-capitalist commotion. “Look at all the little artists / Chasing a dream every day / While people sleep outside and starve” goes one sobering barb from their new record Peace Loving People.

Self-deprecation is a throughline for this band—“No one needs me / I’m a passing fad,” they sang on 2021’s Came Down Different—and that raises a question about the stakes: Are they high because the guys have to justify their “selfish” pursuit, or low because none of this shit matters anyway? What do the artists owe to themselves, or to others? Max Freeland, Trey Flanigan, River Van Den Berghe and Colin Burris spend their fourth album indirectly circling this idea, musing on their identity as a self-proclaimed “deadbeat band.”

Organized around skew-whiff pop hooks and hardcore-punk dynamism, Peace Loving People is a stream of Gen Z consciousness. It’s a therapy session in which many stones are overturned: relationships (romantic and canine); ambition and failure; drugs, lots and lots of drugs; the Second Amendment; big cities and small paychecks; the ever-shifting alternative landscape; the end of the world as we know it; whether we’ll be fine. Each topic is given equal attention and rubs up against the rest, just as in real life—just as in your Twitter feed.

Some of these subjects are tackled with the sardonic wit that characterized Came Down Different, such as when Freeland (co-guitarist/vocals) snarls, “You gotta change with the times / What else can you do? / Nice belief system, man / Did your mommy make it for you?” But others require a kind of melancholy reflection, an earnestness that we haven’t seen the group offer to this degree: “I got so much left to lose / Seems like I never learn a lesson / Unless the lesson leaves a bruise,” he sings on the crisp, poppy standout “Dreaming’s Free.” Striking a similar tone, “Rosemary’s Gone” may well be Breakup Song Of The Year, molding gnarled guitars and diaristic candor into an alluring, Wowee Zowee-esque puddle of pain (just like love..?).

Behind the pithy insights is pithy guitar music. Pardoner’s sound lives in the same world as peer bands Dumb, Dazy, 2nd Grade and Cheekface—those postmodern indie rockers whose love for acts like Lilys and Polvo lingers in their music in the way one’s accent reveals their origin but not their whole story. In other words, Peace Loving People is more than an amalgam of influences. Of course it is. Pardoner have been doing this a while now, and their confidence comes across in these more ambitious arrangements. Fast, loud and even obnoxious one minute; heartfelt and reposed the next.

The formidable finale “When She’s Next To Me” captures those juxtapositions. From its lazy, guitar-plucked opening through its marching snare build-up and from its seething apex to its disintegrating denouement—and its lyrics’ heady distillation of all the album’s themes—it’s apparent that the band saved the best for last. Then again, you can point to any song and call it the best. There are almost too many contenders: the bouncy, blithe single “My Wagon”; the booming slowcore of “Cherries”; the hyper-ironic lyrics and unruly fuzz of “Deadbeat.” Even tracks that initially seem like fillers soon reveal themselves as winners.

Take “Doberman,” a sweet, catchy, but seemingly throwaway track: The lyrics reference William Wegman, the photographer known for his work involving Weimaraners, not Dobermans, in various intriguing costumes and situations. “I could be Wegman / You could be Man Ray / Wish you could talk / I wonder what you’d say,” sings Flanigan, in a low, lackadaisical delivery that contrasts Freeland’s spirited sprechgesang. It’s goofy. It’s simple. But it’s also kind of beautiful in the way a dog taking a shit at sunset is beautiful. “You’re an angel,” Flanigan slurs during the chorus, elongating the last word as the guitars chase each other around like puppies with zoomies.

“Doberman” is emblematic of how Pardoner contextualize sincere subject matter in their own weird way. They’ve always done that of course, but it seems like they care more than ever on Peace Loving People—the smirks moving over to make space for tenderness. Perhaps this is just the natural result of the time the band have invested in their music and in each other. Either way, when Freeland jeers “Which losers today / Tomorrow will win?” it’s almost as if he’s asking on behalf of four San Franciscan deadbeats. I guess he didn’t hear: Winning is out, and Pardoner is in.

Hadyen Merrick is a music writer from Brighton, UK. He contributes to Bandcamp, FLOOD, Pitchfork, Loud and Quiet and others, and was previously associate music editor for the cultural criticism site PopMatters. Please talk to him about music and let him on your podcast: @HaydenMerrick96

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin