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Smut Peddlers Find the Modern Punk Rock Formula with ‘Chino’

The introductory paragraph of the Wikipedia page for Smut Peddlers reads, “The Smut Peddlers are notorious in Southern California for their spirited and rowdy live shows, but are virtually unknown outside these confines.” That’s changing. Their newest album, Songs, is making waves with its disillusioned lyrics and classic sound.

Smut Peddlers are not new to the game. Formed in 1993, the punk band has pretty steadily released albums for over two decades. Their debut was the self-released Failure, followed by Freedom and Tarball 2000 in subsequent years. Starting with a slightly hardcore sound, they moved quickly into a more melodic sound. The band remains an aggressive remnant of the last shining years of punk rock.

The band released their newest LP, Songs, last month. Its song “Chino” has earned significant attention and deserves to bring the band onto the radar of any punk fan. It also has a chance to bring other listeners into the world of punk.

“Chino” is a rant by singer John Ransom about the unsustainable high speed of life and the chains of a lifestyle of work and misbehavior. His vocals in the verses are like aggressive, rhythmic talking, reminiscent of Sleaford Mods. “I’m so glad I didn’t O.D., and end up dead,” he says, “Cuz I’d have never learned to play golf or sit down and eat this beautiful spread.” The song is full of that nonchalant punk humor, their style of being facetious to address a problem and argue a point.

Over fast guitars and drums—that basic and, arguably, best punk setup—Ransom sings his description of the inescapable, pointless habits of a working life:

But all the kids are going to school

Or working a job, so it’s really cool

We all get to learn a useful trade

We’re gonna blow all our ducats when we get paid

For a nickel a day I do my task

Removing asbestos without a mask.

It’s a pretty hopeless but honest six lines, and they sound so unfortunately accurate. Stop and look, he’s saying, look around. What’s going on?

Lots of punks try to be angry, or dangerous, or political. Smut Peddlers, in this song, go for the sad truth. The lyrics capture a familiar carelessness that can’t be blamed when it’s coming from so deep inside the system of work–money–rules–punishment. The guitar keeps the tone cheerful, another classic punk move, even while the lyrics dip into frustration. The song ends, “I’m gettin’ paroled for the summer y’all / But I’ll catch a new beef and be back in the fall,” while the music powers on without a second’s hesitation. No consideration of the alternatives, no pause for the sad truth; just keep on keeping on.

More from Songs:

The album’s one-word title holds that same carelessness, as if it’s asking, “What’s the point of titling an album, or of anything, really?” It’s a tricky thing to make important, topical statements in an album while keeping a tone of hopelessness. It’s the spoken style of the lyrics that have the potential to bring punk rock back into conversation with the current flag bearers of punk: rap and hip hop. Meanwhile, Ransom references the Dead Kennedys and the band chugs along with their power chords. With “Chino,” they might have found the perfect formula to make punk rock relevant without sacrificing their electric guitars.

Listen to Songs on Apple Music and Spotify.

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