L-R: Chad Williams, Mitch Paglia, Ken Yamazaki, Tony Teixeira, Jason Hall
Of all the words used to describe Western Addiction, “positive” feels the least fitting. After all, the San Francisco quintet plays decidedly aggressive West Coast hardcore topped by the scratchy yowl of vocalist Jason Hall.
But “positive” fits the group’s third full-length (Fat Wreck Chords, May 15). Yes, it’s called Frail Bray, and yes, song titles include “Utter Despair” and “Deranged by Grief.” But when Hall describes the album’s themes, the first words he uses are “hope” and “rejuvenation.”
These are not particularly cheerful times, and Western Addiction’s 2017 album, Tremulous, wasn’t exactly a light-hearted romp. But that’s exactly why Hall wanted to change tactics for the new one.
“Tremulous just felt pretty depressing,” he says. “I was like, ‘Man, I can be this upset, or I can try to be optimistic. You always have to try, you know? So I was like, ‘What if we made a hopeful record?’”
Make no mistake: Western Addiction hasn’t gone sunshine and rainbows. Frail Bray remains as aggressive as its predecessors. Guitarists Ken Yamazaki and Tony Teixeira sound huger than ever, with Mitch Paglia’s knotty bass lines in lock step with Chad Williams’ intricate beats. And Hall opens the album with an attack on destructive capitalism called “The Leopard and the Juniper.”
But listen closely, and hope sneaks in. It’s in the two-part celebration of motherhood, “Rose’s Hammer I” and “Rose’s Hammer II.” It’s in the “life after healing” of “Laurette” and the perpetual rejuvenation of “Wildflowers of Italy.” It’s in “We Lived in Ultraviolet,” a straight-up love song.
The point of view isn’t the only thing that’s different on Frail Bray.
“I wanted to think about songwriting more,” Hall says. “I can’t really sing, so I worship songwriters. I feel like I know the components of what makes a decent song, and I try to hit those components, but my voice won’t let me. But this time around, I got the closest I could to that.” He pauses for a beat. “Of course, packaged in big, bright, hardcore punk, rock ’n’ roll record.”
Since forming in 2002, Western Addiction has defied easy categorization—“I never know what we are,” Hall says, laughing—and Frail Bray finds the band slipping further beyond the confines of hardcore. “Rose’s Hammer II” swaggers like Queens of the Stone Age, “Wildflowers of Italy” nods to classic rock ’n’ roll, and album closer “Deranged by Grief” recalls Suicidal Tendencies by way of Simon and Garfunkel, one of Hall’s favorite groups. Western Addiction’s attack has grown more nuanced, and Frail Bray’s 11 tracks show the band crafting songs that comfortably draw from a wide swath of rock ’n’ roll while retaining punk’s ferocity.
Working for the first time with producer Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Jeff Rosenstock, Gouge Away), Western Addiction tracked Frail Bray live to tape—another first for them—at the Atomic Garden in Oakland in late 2019. The band spent most of the preceding year writing and working on the songs that would become the album.
“I don’t believe that lightning strikes and you get this magic song right out of the sky,” Hall says. “I just don’t believe that. You have to push it.” Frail Bray shows how that dedication pays off.
Fat Wreck Chords will release Frail Bray on May 15th.