Album Review: Paint Fumes – Real Romancer

[DIG!; 2023]

Neil Young said, “rock and roll can never die”. Strictly speaking, it may be punk, vis a vis the rudiments of pop, that can never die. The catchy melody, adrenalized hook, attitudinal vocal. No one, even the cynic in the privacy of their basement or bathroom, can help emotionally drooling, feeling the uplift, the jolt, that addictive three-minute joy ride. Even Jesus, if he makes it back, will be driving his electric car with the windows down, singing along unabashedly to “Sub-Mission” and “We Want the Airwaves”.

The North Carolina-based Paint Fumes released their debut, Uck Life, in 2012. Their raucous exuberance drew from Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era as much as The Ramones and Black Flag. A dash of The Germs. Gun Club. The rush of perennial individualism meets the downer of 21st-century materialism. With 2019’s What a World, singer and primary songwriter Elijah von Cramon continued to hone his vocal stylings and pop savvy while the band explored understated interplays, mixing restraint and abandon, universal craft garbed in fringe, essentialism reconfigured as mutiny.

With their new album, Real Romancer, the band offer a set of exemplary pop-punk tunes, each track built around diamond hooks, raw yet buoyant vocals, and guitar solos that erupt, sting the listener with a dose of amphetamine bliss, and quickly disappear, foundering in a crunchy maelstrom. This is prime time meets the underworld, American ambivalence at its best: swagger, self-deprecation, incidental hedonism, and what might be called hardboiled innocence.

“Book of Love” features warbly and overdriven guitars, the band moving between airy verses and stormy choruses. Vocals are gravelly yet suave, slightly snide yet still affable. “Holding My Heart” is built around a simple yet galvanic riff, Joshua Johnson’s playful drum part, and Nic Pugh’s hammering bass. Joe Boyland’s guitar solo is punchy yet seamlessly phrased, the song’s timbre edgy yet convivial, volatile yet chock-full of charm.

On “Fascinating”, guitar parts are riffy and dense. Boyland’s solo veers toward the chaotic before being reined in, everything that needs to happen happening in two minutes and four seconds. “Night Owl” glorifies the late-night orientation, the romance of staying up and hoping for the miracle, that eureka moment, however it arrives and through whatever means. With “Callin’ Out”, von Cramon stretches phrases, mischievously elongating melodies. The song features a brighter and briskly strummed guitar sound and a cogent solo that would get a grin from Ace Frehley, Elliot Easton, and Marissa Paternoster.

“My Dreams” is like bubblegum run through a heartbreak pedal. Diaristic rhymes transformed into pulp lit. Fun = Art. On “Still Lookin’”, von Cramon’s voice fissures into a thousand shards of longing as he offers his take on “the road”, that uber-Romantic metaphor for longing, restlessness; it’s Love in the Western World, three chords in the name of God or perhaps just momentary satisfaction.

For over a decade, the Paint Fumes have eclectically mined the punk genre; with their latest set, they fully and undistractedly make that history their own: tension, catharsis, humor, the thrill of chemistry, and a hook that just might linger forever.