Douglas Martin has listened to enough Tribe Called Quest to know that things work in cycles.
Repeat — the debut record from Seattle garage-punk trio Wimps — begins with an occupied bed and an alarm clock that wasn’t set the previous evening. With three blaring chords and Rachel Ratner’s bratty bleat, it doesn’t take much for “Slept in Late” to achieve its status as an ideal slacker theme song. The tune is virtually one big hook that treats its progressions as building blocks on a bridge, going back in order to move forward and Ratner being her own backup singer. Both sonically and thematically, Repeat mostly follows this template while still setting themselves apart from your garden variety Pizza Fest band.
It’s been endlessly repeated that confidence and charisma are performance qualities that cannot be taught, and Repeat captures that new band bravado par excellence. Whether bludgeoning everything in sight with clamorous blasts or plunking their way through herky-jerky post-punk guitar lines similar to those of the Coathangers, Wimps, in spite of their namesake, want to make it perfectly clear they’re not afraid of you or your expectations. They’re going to play really loud and kind of fast and mostly sloppy, and you’re going to hear it in its undistilled form even if you have to call the cops halfway through.
But even with the brashness of the band taking center-stage, the record’s subject matter suggests they’re not quite the troublemakers they want you to believe they are. One track is half-jokingly titled “Stop Having Fun.” “Hello Frustration” has a refrain of “Let’s grow old and be boring.” They verbally assault unnamed grumps, they strongly caution against eating old food, trouble, and reference sleep multiple times. Think of how many songs there have been about the “crazy parties” of our youth, of the cheap beer consumed at such gatherings. On one of Repeat’s shining moments, Wimps shun those parties, the movies, and the beach in favor of a little shut-eye. There’s a specific irony in one of the funnest punk songs of the year so far being titled “Nap,” but here we are.
Wimps are often too clever by half. When it works, it really works: The irresistible “UFO” bridges the gap between extraterrestrials and boyfriends who don’t call back with one simple (and quite overused) pop-culture reference. (I’d give you three guesses, but you’ll probably only need one unless you’re wholly unfamiliar with Drew Barrymore.) But the album’s bright spots are speckled with bad lines that ruin otherwise good songs like “Wet Cardboard” and do nothing to save clunkers like “Stop Having Fun.”
A few dozen seconds into Repeat, the title track perfectly captures the band’s promise with a loosey-goosey, call-and-response diatribe about being trapped in a rut. Clipped shouts make way to drained murmurs, guitar riffs and basslines form a cyclical pattern, and the lyrical repetition makes you feel the mounting frustration of doing the same thing over and over, only to quietly run out of energy instead of flame out in rage. Whether by deep conceptual thought or just happy accident, “Repeat” suggests that while the band posits themselves as almost comically straightforward, there’s something underneath the surface. In the endless rotation that is our daily lives, sometimes we do the things we do so many times that something accidentally intriguing happens. Not only have Wimps stumbled upon this, but they’ve also shown there’s a lot of fun to be had in being boring.