XL, 2008

Junior Nashville punk rockers, Be Your Own Pet caused something of a stir at a show in London recently. Previewing tracks from their follow-up to 2006’s self-titled debut, the band engaged in a food fight, whereby vocalist Jemina Pearl walked away from the melee with a fetching black eye.

It’s a decent metaphor for Get Awkward, an album that begins with a squeal of guitars and a scream of “I just want to run around/I just want to party down” and delivers 14 other short sharp shocks, vicious little bursts of high-action, high-comedy, high-school angst, gossip, heartbreak, slumber parties and ass-kicking.

The album has already garnered controversy, catching the attention of delicate ears who’ve demanded three songs be excised from the running order (“Blow Yr Mind”, “Black Hole” and “Becky”) for being a little too unfriendly. “Blow Yr Mind” rushes at such a lightning pace that the lyrics barely register. “Black Hole” is a portrait of small-town monotony, a topic that middle America kids are probably familiar with, but when Pearl sings “Breaking glass bottles is oh-so-fun/Let’s go and kill someone!/Living in this city, I get so bored/Wanna kill myself on a telephone cord” any kind of light-hearted humour here is absent. “Becky” offers a quirky doo-wop change of pace and is one of the album’s highlights, but gets the chop for viciously courting revenge on an ex-best friend — “Me and her, we’ll kick you’re ass, we’ll wait with knives after class”. When the rest of the band step up to sing “We don’t like Becky anymore!” it doesn’t come across quite as black as “Black Hole”.

Be Your Own Pet play like a modern day Bikini Kill, less riot grrrl, but riot, girl! The boys in the band know their chops, throwing down a precision hardcore backing, and Jemina’s vocals veer in a breath from twisted and malicious to heartbroken and wiser for it (“You’re a Waste”). There’s an element of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs about them, and Jemina does tend to tread on Karen O’s toes, like on “The Kelly Affair” which is almost a surf guitar steal of “Date With the Night” but where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs tripped and fell with their second album, Be Your Own Pet leaps right over them. The song seems autobiographical — a new band arriving in Los Angeles and getting swayed by the excess of the scene. “It could be dangerous living in this valley!/Everybody here parties all the time!”

The aggression and mouthy pretensions (check the wisecracks on “Bitches Leave” especially the laugh out loud “I know you’re lying that you take it in the rear”) thrown together with tracks like the moronic “Bummer Time” and the black-eye inducing “Food Fight” show a band not taking themselves too seriously, and now that they’re all of a post-teenage age, Get Awkward tip-toes between throwing up and growing up. Playful and energetic, sinister and in your face (depending where you bought it), Get Awkward is good fun times and light years away from the world of dull Disney Channel do-gooders. The right kids are gonna say “this album rocks!” and the right kids are usually right.