When teenage punks Be Your Own Pet exploded onto the scene in 2005, their manic energy and wild reputation seemed so often summed up in vocalist Jemina Pearl’s occasional on-stage vomiting due to too much rambunctious bouncing (and perhaps attention0-seeking). While that’s certainly noteworthy, the band surrounding her seemed to get short shrifted attention-wise. Maybe that’s why side projects proliferated even before the band’s breakup, like Jamin Orrall’s early departure for JEFF the Brotherhood and guitarist Jonas Stein’s steadily gaining Turbo Fruits. Though only in his mid-20s, Stein has seen his share of both the high and low times — probably more of the former, considering the number of weed references in their catalog — and sounds appropriately grizzled on the Fruits’ new record, Butter, rife with road-weary warnings.
As the whiskey-soaked adrenaline buzz of “Where the Stars Don’t Shine” opens the album, the picture of Turbo Fruits playing at the back of a smoke-cloaked house party swirls into view. Matt Hearn’s rolling, thunderous fills and Stein’s fulminating riffs are surely keeping the party going, lubricating the attendees as much as the abundant cheap beer. But listen closely: It’s clear that things aren’t quite as freewheeling over in the corner. Despite much of the song sounding like a typical come-on, there are flashes of the uncertainty that comes past the college years. “Can you tell I’m a little scared?” Stein asks, admitting there’s something behind the swagger.
Relationships with women seem to be a particularly difficult area, as they’re almost always on the way out or already gone. Even when it’s something casual, Stein’s narrative is one of dilemma and danger. Over Kingsley Brock’s choppy waves of rhythm guitar, he explains that even when picking up a lady over cigarettes and whiskey, he’s not sure of his type and worried about who he’s exactly going to wind up with. “I’m trying real hard/ I’m holding my breath/ ‘Cause you never do know what you’re going to catch,” he sways. Though he refers to himself as the fisherman, the fear expressed in that chorus would suggest that the roles reverse to a certain degree. Even his favorite girl is long gone in “Sweet Thang”, and it’s driving him insane. Stein’s weary croon over the twinkling guitar lead and jumping bass evoke The Walkmen succinctly, and it’s a surprisingly heartfelt ballad from the dudes who wrote a song that shares its name with a brand of vaporizer.
When Stein tries on the leather jacket of the rough and tumble biker boyfriend on “Harley Dollar Bill$”, it doesn’t seem to fit the same way it does for the more traditional garage rocker. The talk of lovin’ your hog (“this motorcycle is my girl/ And I’m a motorcycle man”), the lightning riffs and Dave McCowen’s thumping bass sound as if they were aped from a ’60s bike-sploitation flick, practiced in front of the mirror for ages, but the escapism of the chorus (“I’m going to get away/ Leave my problems today”) better embodies the fantasy of the album.
Even the most readily available escapist option — life on the road in a rock ‘n’ roll band — is fraught with peril. It’s hard not to think of BYOP when Stein sings about the fraying connections of a band on “Gotta Get Along”. The circumstances of not bathing and being stuck with the same people day after day apply to any touring act, but the looming specter of a noteworthy breakup that Stein experiences naturally sneaks into the frame. “If we wanna rule this world/ We gotta get our shit together,” he croons over some lithe picking and superball rhythms. The impetus is to keep on having fun and smoke some weed to relax, but the repeated insistence that we need to get along forces the point that, well, they must not be.
While the mindlessness of barn-burner “Ain’t The Only One Havin’ Fun” closes the album with a ruckus, its insistence of fun betrays the hard-won conceit of the majority of the album. It’s a free-spirited return to the teenage wildness that’s entirely off from the varied, conflicted emotions of an otherwise mature Butter. Even on this step away, the true blue guitar riffs and steel-cut hook are the work of a professional pack of southern garage rockers. Whether pushing away from stereotypical tough guy lyrics or embracing the party at all costs, Turbo Fruits lock into a honed Tennessee garage rock groove, ready to play any house party that’ll have them and get anxious about the social interactions.
Essential Tracks: “Where the Stars Don’t Shine”, “Sweet Thang”