CD REVIEW: The Empire Penguin Strikes Back

CD: The Empire Penguin Strikes Back
ARTIST: The Concept

It seems like a lifetime ago that I first heard "Guitar Pick In The Kool-Aid" on The Concept's MySpace page. I instantly fell in love with this catchy, quirky three-piece punk band from Charleston. Just as I was asking myself 'Why aren't there any rockin' punk bands in town?' I came across Mike, Ross, and Dave.

Compared to Huntington and Morgantown, Charleston is seemingly at the shallow end of the talent pool when it comes to bands. After hearing The Concept's first EP, and now this new effort, I must say they've come a long way.
It's not just media types like WVRockscene and Radio Free Charleston's Rudy Panucci that quickly got a Concept tattoo; the band earned their fans the hard way: by doing shows all over the place. From Charleston, Huntington, and Morgantown to Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Florida and back, The Concept's version of punk, whether in bars like the Parrot or the Glass, or at all-ages venues, seems to have won over a lot of fans.

Now to the CD -- one of the first things you'll notice is the humorous spoof of Star Wars on the cover. One thing that comes through in the band's live act is indeed their chemistry and back-and-forth joking and tom foolery. I mean, who would let someone onstage to sing the NOFX hit "Linoleum" with them? These guys. That's who.

"Penguin" starts with a pretty cool noise intro before going into one of the coolest songs I've heard them do, "Ye To The 10th Degree." It's a harder song than something you'd hear from a "pop" punk band, with a nice little drawn out jam. Pounding tom rolls by drummer Ross Anderson pull you in, and the song punches you in the face, figuratively speaking, of course.

"Last Of The Emohicans" is a short lil uptempo number that fits in perfect with our attention span. If you'd heard their first EP (what a horrible idea that was) you'd recognize stronger, re-recorded versions of "That's The One," "Not The Only," and their screamo-meets-punk version of Tom Petty's classic "Learning To Fly," which I love.

If I hadn't heard most of the songs on the CD by the time I got "Penguin," I'd have pee'd my pants with joy having got this sent in. That's the only disappointing thing about "Penguin" -- not enough songs! Only eight, and I'd already heard half of them, but that's only cuz I'm totally gay for THC.

Check out the ska-intro turned balls-out rock of "Out Of Nowhere," a song that, with Scott Ilar on organ and Greg Hunt on guitar (who also helped mix and record the CD at Cerberus), bodes well for the future direction of The Concept's sound.

Lyrically, singer-guitarist Mike Withrow on most songs seems quite desperate, whether it's the band or relationship-type stuff. There are cool vocal harmonies on most of the songs and cool "nah-nah-nah's" panned from left to right on "Nowhere," which is pretty neat. The tone and the tempo of the music kind of remind me of my favorite older Face To Face songs.

"Penguin" closes with the instrumental tribute "Ben's Song" before going into some more random noise on a hidden track. The re-recorded versions are punchier and louder (note Dave Cantrell's bass), and with Withrow helping in the lab, honing his production skills and with the band's musical path, I think the future is kind of bright for these three guys.

The Concept never needed to put a CD out to have won me over. But this CD just reaffirms what I already knew: The Concept rocks, and helps to make what I've been doing the past two years way more enjoyable.


Rudy Panucci said...

Great review. You nailed the only complaint about the CD: It leaves you wanting more! Can't wait for the second CD, now, and this one's not even officially out yet.

Anonymous said...

I know its been a while but I would like to buy this album. Where do i buy go?

WVRockscene! said...

hey "Anonymous" sorry for not responding if indeed you are a real person. (we get spam comments periodically). i imagine if you wanted a copy you'd have to contact the band personally. do you live around here? i'll sell you my copy for a vast markup haha...

WVRockscene! said...

okay anon just heard that there are two (2) copies left at cat's back records in nitro. you are welcome. one of our favorite cds tho. you have good taste.