HEADLINES

PUJOL – ‘United States of Being’

 

Courtesy of Jonathan Kingsbury

Earlier this week PUJOL released United States of Being, the band’s first full-length LP on Omaha-based indie label Saddle Creek Records. PUJOL’s eponymous front man and sole songwriter is Daniel Pujol (pronounced with a hard “j”), an occasional college student and always songwriter who is known for being both prolific and hardworking—two tenets of the DIY, Nashvillian garage rock aesthetic that he so aptly represents—and he has been quietly releasing singles and EP’s over the last 3 years through Jack White’s 3rd Man Records.  He hit a break last year with Nasty, Brutish, and Short, the EP that included “Mayday,” a rollicking and undeniably fun tune that got attention from the likes of American Songwriter. His most recent 12-song effort showcases new tracks (and a few revamped songs) that sound musically like the soundtrack to a three-day bender and lyrically like the journal of an intelligent, discerning person with a lot on his mind.

While United States of Being is slicker than his previous releases from a production standpoint, there is no producer capable of mastering Daniel Pujol’s voice into a tamer version of his signature growl—it’s an overpowering instrument that hits you like he’s singing in the back of an antique steel fan pointed directly at your face. You can nearly feel the words smacking your cheek with snarling vigor, but, he doesn’t hang his vocal hat solely upon the energy level. The lyrics are smart, liturgical (remove the religious connotations) and even poetic, not surprising since he regularly publishes poetry for a series called EGGS via Nashville Cream.

The album kicks off with “DIY2K,” a song reminiscent of early Replacements that sets the tone for the lyrical theme of the record. What is the theme? Everything is fucked up…but hopefully not for long. The guitars come at us immediately with what feels like pounding down-strokes to create the fabric for Pujol’s raspy vocal hooks and it’s clear at this point that we’re in for a wild ride. Track 2 (“Message from God”) starts off with a cell-phone vibration alert, the buzzing preamble to the auditory wake-up call in the form of a raucous punk song that showcases the youthful exuberance beneath the surface of his social criticism with lyrics like, “But I know I’m hanging out in a smoky bar and I know I drove here in my parent’s car.” While not his most poetic line, it’s indicative of his nature. He’s a poet and a twenty-something trying to figure out life and the opposite sex in the bars like many of us. Musically, the album then flows easily into “Providence,” one of the best songs on the record, and really showcases his conflicted nature—he’s hopeful about the power of music and love but discouraged by the oppressive forces (like “popes and kings”). The lyrics evoke fantastic imagery but don’t spoon-feed the meaning (a pet peeve) as he sings, “God is pumping me full of lead.” This is a record that believes in the power of the individual.

“Providence” by PUJOL

The album transitions into the middle part of the record with aesthetically similar songs in terms of tone, but the sound is more derivative of classic rock than garage or punk with the big, repeating riffs. “Keeper of Atlantis” and “Made of Money” both would be categorized this way. Track 6 (“Endless Mike”) slows things down with unique percussion (glockenspiel perhaps?) and third-person storytelling that feels Southern and perfect for a day on the front porch with a spiked ice tea. But that interlude is short-lived and it’s almost as if the record starts over with “Reverse Vampire,” the nihilistic single that leaked several weeks before the record arrived, and doesn’t back off the aggression until the droning conclusion. “Black Rabbit” (a revamped song off an earlier release) has a distinctly Elvis Costello feel—Pujol’s vocals are declarative and then spend the next few seconds in a swift melodic explanation against a 50s drum beat, and it is undoubtedly one of the more fun songs on the record. “Each and Every Day” shows that Pujol has a vocal range and the treble-laden guitar licks are similar to Cheap Trick or The Strokes’ song “Someday.” The lyrics are similar in theme to most of the record as he sings, “Each and every day, building up a cage to keep us free.” This type of paradox, a cage keeping one free, and the internal conflict of living in our world with a good heart are what defines a PUJOL song. Both musically and thematically, this record has cohesion.

I have to think that Daniel Pujol probably doesn’t much care what I (or anyone else) writes or thinks about his full-length LP and that only gives him more artistic integrity. He would have, and has, put out his music with no visible intent to “make it big” or reach the masses or impress writers. United States of Being seems like a personal journal but honestly, whether he intends to or not, he’s speaking the mind of Generation Y—the twenty-somethings of the world who’ve left college over-educated and underwhelmed by the failings of the government, financial institutions, and the “adults” who fucked it all up. In the face of all these things, PUJOL and Pujol (if you get my distinction) stand for the idea that art, music, and love can overcome it all and create meaning for us in a world that seems increasingly devoid of those things. I happen to agree with him. Oh, and the music is good too.

Stream United States of Being via Rolling Stone

Favorite Tracks: “Providence” and “Each and Every Day”

★★★★☆ 

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