The striking pop art cover for Drinking Boys and Girls Choir’s second album, Marriage License, sees two pink hands showing the middle finger while linked together at the pinkies, and the songs contained within the record are the musical equivalent of this pointed and fierce gesture. If a sophomore release is all about showing growth, then DBAGC have done just that here: the Daegu punks’ new album is an urgent and powerful listen, more refined and focused than their messy but endearing 2019 debut Keep Drinking.
The album cover and title are the band’s reference to the continued struggle for LGBTQ+ people to be accepted in South Korean society. The Western world might have finally woken up to the quality of their filmmakers and K-pop stars, but, as DBAGC are wont to note, pervasive issues still remain in the country. It’s why they’ve decided to make Marriage License a sort of concept album, taking as its narrative source a worker in her 30s who is also a female punk rocker. These tracks might be coming from a more emotional and sincere place, but that doesn’t mean the band have lost any of their raucous spunk. All of their anger and anxiety is hidden under layers of inscrutable punk. But they’re not messing about either. The 11 songs are resolutely short and sweet, the group eager to enforce their message swiftly.
It’s not all chaos and frenzy, though, and the band display nice dovetailing between lighter melodic tracks and the thrash and thrum of harder-hitting hardcore. “Odoby”, with its incessant gang vocals, melts into the sprightly “There Is No Spring”, and then easily into the standout warmth of “Time”. They even find the balance within individual songs, the crashing drums of “Limitless Night” providing a sturdy base for the sweetly floating vocals in the background. Many of the highlights are when the members come together to sing to powerful effect, particularly in “Attention”, with its prophetic chanting that sounds like a countdown to some momentous event.
More melodic fare again comes with “Secret Revenge”, which skids along at a pleasant speed, before giving way to the sincere and tender “My Second Universe”, a loving ode from singer Kim to her fiancé. Following the comfort of these two tracks, the hardcore thunder of “I Am Not A Machine” interjects, an angry drum beat propelling it forward. “Grab The Chance” is indulgently chaotic, rollicking in every which direction. “Wish” closes the record with striking guitars and tunnelling drums, while Kim sounds more assured than on the rest of the record, surveying the chaos and messages of what came before.
In their balance of frustration and hope, melody and energy, DBAGC have struck on a fine formula in Marriage License. You feel that this is just as cathartic an exercise for them as it is for any listener. It’s the sound of a band maturing while still retaining the sense of fun and insouciance that made them stand out in the first place.