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New Artist Spotlight: Summer Houses named their latest release “Frantic Hearts” for a reason

We probably all know by now, due to Portland’s well-publicized “stay weird” slogan, that any punk band from the indie crochet and vegan strip club Mecca isn’t going to be straight up and down punk. Actually in their debut album frantic hearts, experimental punk group Summer Houses has more in common compositionally and sonically with The Doors and Zappa than anything a fan outside of PDX would classify as punk. But is it the band that is wrong, or the definition?

With a wicked electronic organ as a main feature of their sound and the click of electronic we needed to justify this article about YEDM, Portland natives Summer House have the built-in chaos, screaming lyrics and psychobilly guitar vibes and total lack of attention to key that have characterized punk since the beginning. Originally an experimental sound before being co-opted by the more popular likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, punk’s definitive sound was never quite definitive. In the 70s and early 80s there was still a lot of overlap with classic rock and punk took a lot of influence from bands like Frank Zappa, Sabbath, Golden Earring and Iron Butterfly.

Punk splintered into more stylized, almost unrecognizable genres like new wave and goth/emo and entered pop culture in the late 80s while other factions took it to weirder, more marginalized areas like psychobilly and whatever Fugazi and Bad Brains where do. In the 90s, grunge emerged and almost took over the entire genre. Thanks to bands like Social Distortion, Black Flag, and The Descendents, among other pop punk outfits not to be mentioned here, there has always been a core of “punk punk” that has come to be the stereotypical sound most music fans associate with punk, but where sure: nothing about punk was ever meant to be stereotypical.

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With that slightly bitter, GenX-tinged history lesson, in the corner of “not stereotype” and punk culture is where we find Summer Houses. Known for their wild shows playing almost exclusively house parties and not recording any of their work in the early years of their banddom, you could be forgiven for thinking that the band’s releases so far are nothing more than improvisational jam sessions that have decided to record. However, scratch a little below the surface and it is clear that the works were put together both for their previous EPs and for Frantic hearts are well-crafted, multi-layered and far more musically complex than your average two-chord punk song.

With super cool album art by Sofia Champan that matches the album’s title and vibe, Frantic hearts opens with a classic grunge riff, which is part of this album. It’s clear that in addition to all their 70s and 80s influences, Summer Houses have a strong connection to 90s punk. Fans of grunge will catch scents of early Smashing Pumpkins and Alice in Chains. “Winners Circle” actually seems like a semi-ironic, sadder take (if such a thing is possible) on Local H’s “Bound to the Floor.” However, the bass guitar is only a starting point. There’s also a great college radio vein running through the music a la The Dead Milkmen, The Pixies or King Missile. Since these bands also largely took their influence from Zappa, it stands to reason. This faction is most evident in the band’s tendency to go from lighter, sort of nerdy punk to heavy, Sabbath-inspired tone in songs like “Television”, “Frantic Start” and “Wartime”.

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The influences you can hear are endless in this album but the point is how it all came together. With so many different styles and sounds as one instrument put together at once and the meandering, existential vocals combined with that kind of disembodied keyboard makes for a chaotic, almost surreal experience. There’s so much to listen to, so many transitions and so much attention to noise and dissonance that it’s not worth it to pick apart all the styles, especially if you’re at one of Summer House’s raucous shows. That said, it’s important to note that this is definitely not your boilerplate punk, and in fact the tracks on Frantic minds were probably carefully designed for the effect they create. These punks have created something that may sound musically frantic but has the heart of something true, full and genuinely artistic. If you don’t think that’s punk, it might be time to update your definition.

Frantic hearts is out now and can be purchased on Bandcamp or streamed on Spotify.

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