“Give me a reason to give a shit,” sings So So Glos frontman Levi Zaru (aka Aleksander) on his band’s latest full-length album, Kamikaze. It’s a challenge not easily met by the “pseudo journalists” he calls out on “Cadaver (Career Suicide)”, many of whom spend their days compiling ephemeral “Best Of” lists that divert the mind without offering much to chew on.
But you don’t have to be a real journalist to recognize where Zaru is coming from. Dig a little into the The So So Glos’ past and you’ll find a strain of tribalism that has stuck with them since their childhood in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Zaru’s brother, Ryan Zaru Levi, and step-brother, Zach Assa-el Staggers, have been playing music with him from an early age, as has longtime friend and guitarist Matt Lasser-Elkin. Soon after officially forming The So So Glos, the foursome established The Market Hotel and Shea Stadium, two all-ages performance spaces that have left a lasting imprint on Brooklyn’s DIY music scene. While some people travel the world to become cultured, these guys stayed put and helped build a culture defined by a sense of ownership. So you can forgive their contempt for critics who hear one or two songs and smugly dismiss them as “‘90s nostalgia,” just as you can forgive their very New York tendency to close ranks and spit in the face of the outside world.
The truth is, you’ve got to take the time machine further back than the ‘90s to find the New York City sounds that really leached their way into The So So Glos’ DNA. On Kamikaze, as on their 2013 breakout album Blowout, the band comes across like the Adderall-fueled offspring of The Beastie Boys and proto-punks The Heartbreakers, both groups defined as much by their attitude as by their actual music. Zaru’s lyrics tend to be as streetwise and irreverent as Mike D’s, only they’re backed by trashy power pop riffs instead of hip-hop beats. The best example of this shows up on the song “Inpatient”, which combines a typically snotty, singalong punk chorus with verses that indulge in free association and wordplay (“Yeah, I’ve got the blues alright/ I take two in the morning and three at night”).
There’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor to be found on Kamikaze, and songs like “Dancing Industry” and “Devil’s Doing Handstands” have the manic energy to keep a certain kind of basement party going all night long. All of which is to say that this is a supremely fun record, the likes of which punk and rock in general could use a lot more of. But underlying — and perhaps even undermining — that fun is a palpable sense of anxiety that refuses to be ignored just because there’s a party going on.
Every punk band needs something to rebel against, and The So So Glos have chosen a rather obvious object of derision: the effect of technology and social media in particular on today’s youth. “I’m a too much information generation cliche,” Zaru sings on album highlight and lead single “A.D.D. Life”, bemoaning the fact that, the more input our brains receive, the less we know what to do with that input (“We’ve got the ill communication but nothing to say”).
Just as William Wordsworth, in a different time and medium, observed that “the world is too much with us,” Zaru reserves his most caustic lines for the notion that we’ve surrendered an integral part of our humanity to the machines. Wordsworth’s ideal might have been a wholesale return to nature, but The So So Glos just want a world in which people can still connect to each other without the help of touchscreens. “Let’s build a new machine,” he sings on “Dancing Industry”, one made of “people like you and me/ Who sweat and breathe and piss and bleed.”
Punk rock has always been a sanctuary for this kind of organic connection; despite the leftist posturing of its members, the scene has always fostered a reactionary and even conservative undercurrent that resists progress in favor of things more familiar and knowable. “Kings County II: Ballad Of A So So Glo” recounts the tale of a boy who “fell in love with his own reflection, glowing on a 4-inch screen.” But the song is just as much an anthem as it is a ballad, presenting a solution to screen addiction in and of itself. With Kamikaze, The So So Glos are on a mission to prove that loud, cathartic rock music can save us from ourselves, and songs like “Kings County II” are thrilling enough to make us at least pause to consider the possibility.
It makes sense that Kamikaze closes with “Missionary”, the album’s most ferocious tune and one that Zaru has described as representing “the state of being on a quest with urgency and a need to tell the whole world.” The idea that one band — especially one punk band — can change the world may seem laughably antiquated in the abstract, but this is one moment where these guys aren’t laughing. Instead, they’re going straight for the jugular, forcing the listener to pay attention and tune out the white noise, if only for three minutes at a time. So when Zaru asks his critics to “give me a reason to give a shit,” he deserves one. After all, he and his band have given us 12.
Essential Tracks: “A.D.D. Life”, “Kings County II: Ballad Of A So So Glo”, and “Missionary”