Album Review: Belako – Plastic Drama

[BMG; 2020]

Hard truths are, by definition, hard to admit. Essential is a euphemism for expendable. Convenient technology is possible thanks to cheap labor. Privilege dictates livelihoods. For many, 2020 has served as a much-needed reality check. Yet for those who’ve paid attention, these hard truths are nothing new.

Thankfully, Spanish punk band Belako falls into the latter. Their appropriately-named fourth album Plastic Drama — and major label debut — is relevant because it puts first-world problems into perspective. On single “Profile Anxiety”, singer Cristina Lizarraga plays the role of a social media superstar who wields the power of deception. “No wonder you think I’m swimming in gold,” she sings before soon lamenting “this game is too old.” 

On the album’s stand-out title track, sources of privileged envy are called out by name — “old new devices,” “greediest dreams,” “white sheets.” The groovy bass and elegant piano evoke Mitski on her excellent “Nobody”, yet here, there’s an irony to the playful instrumentation — sure, it’s nice to dance through the pain, but why do we insist on dramatizing our lives?

This is especially true when Belako get to some ugly truths. The seething “All Nerve” starts with obvious callings (“Your morals have been awakened / Don’t fear the struggle”), but soon takes a dark turn: “Failure in a system / That protects femicide,” Lizarraga cries. The track succeeds musically thanks to bassist Lore Nekane Billelabeitia’s sinister groove and drummer Lander Zalakain’s tight rhythms. Lizarraga ups the imagery on the bleak and gritty “AKLR”, where she cries that men are “Sewing up their sex / and yet we are the evil threat.” The track is a reminder that there are things — misogyny, exploitation — to genuinely be angry about.

Of course, it’s one thing to comment on our status quo (people exaggerate on social media, we know) and another to call up something better. Here, too, Belako provide some answers, though some are more effective than others. In the anthemic opener “Tie Me Up”, Lizarraga calls up a world with no heaven and, by extension, no religion. It’s an intriguing idea packaged in an otherwise catchy-yet-straightforward punk track. Meanwhile, single “The Craft” offers the vague call to action (“Ours is the power / Now is the time”) over a rudimentary chorus melody. Despite its humorous slow-mo ending, the track is still Plastic Drama’s weakest link.

Yet what some lyrics lack in substance is made up for in earnestness—the simple message that things can be better. And no matter the message, Belako still turn in several strong tracks on Plastic Drama. On “Truth”, Ximun Billelabeitia’s guitar hooks coupled with Lizarraga’s falsetto create a spirited song in the vein of Sleater-Kinney and Ted Leo. Lizarraga’s tender yet commanding vocals on “AKLR” are reminiscent of Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin, while the openness of the groovy “All Nerve” may remind listeners of Washington, DC punks Priests.

Jaunty closer “Truth” is a tune you’d imagine an audience swaying their beers to (what a thought these days!). It’s this push and pull between the cynical and hopeful that makes Plastic Drama an infectious record. Everybody’s feeling so much at once and that’s okay. Belako understand this, and probably always have.