|Album Rating: B+|
House Boat’s new album is anything but conventional; 21st Century Breakroom consists of only two tracks, the first of which is a nine and a half minute, multi-act “piece,” if you will, which is followed by a 30-second album closer that can be only described as standard, catchy House Boat-fare. Think of the former as an entrée from a questionable restaurant chain whose food never quite looks the way it does on the menu or advertisements – only this is your favorite questionable restaurant chain, and with each meal, you find some strangely enticing reason to come back. Maybe the suspiciously attractive waitress brushed against your shoulder as she refilled your party’s plastic water cups, or you ran into that kid from high school who you hated, and to your sick satisfaction, he seems to be a hell of a lot worse off than you are. Whatever the case, you find yourself attending the restaurant more and more frequently for their Friday $9.95 three-course dinner special, and quite frankly, you always leave satisfied. Now that I’ve inadvertently revealed my obsession with T.G.I. Friday’s, what I’m trying to say is House Boat’s appeal is difficult to pinpoint. Sure, a barrage of brief, quirky, self-depreciative pop punk songs with outrageous lyrical themes like comic books and masturbation makes for a good idea on paper, but the final product should not be this good. Even though one might be hard pressed to call 21st Century Breakroom an LP (considering the fact that NOFX’s similarly constructed, one-track EP, The Decline, was nearly twice as long), House Boat’s latest affair provides more sheer enjoyment than is to be expected from any full length record.
With members from Dear Landlord and The Ergs!, along with vocalist Grath Madden who formerly fronted The Steinways, House Boat are certainly well-versed in the post-adolescent pop punk realm. The aforementioned bands as well as other associated acts are all characterized by the liberal use of melodic guitar leads, power chords, and vocal harmonies, and House Boat are no different. Their first two releases, The Delaware Octopus and Processing Complaints were catchy, straightforward bursts of hilarious yet shockingly relatable punk songs, all played back-to-back at a rapid pace. Last year’s The Thorns of Life showcased the band’s attempts at variety with some lengthened, subdued and repressed moments, yet still maintained the signature, upbeat House Boat sound above all else. Despite 21st Century Breakroom’s slightly different and shortened exterior, the album still plays very much like the band’s other releases, albeit a bit more unified.
Within seconds of the album's beginning, most listeners will know exactly what they are in for, and those who do not will find out very quickly. Blunt, confusingly simple yet poetic lyrics lay the groundwork for 21st Century Breakroom, and the instruments simply fill the gaps in an effective yet non-overbearing manner. The overlying theme of helpless self-acceptance combines perfectly with moments of comic relief throughout the album, as displayed by Grath’s proclamation of, "I just want to get high and watch basketball games all night." A surprisingly large amount of ground is covered throughout the album's ten-minute ride as House Boat control the ebb and flow with varying tempos and multiple vocal approaches, both of which are demonstrated nicely around the five and a half minute mark when the album takes a turn for the aggressive. Luckily, sections of novelty never stray too far from the path and return on queue, at least for a brief while, before taking another hairpin turn toward oblivion and returning once again.
Clearly, House Boat have a knack (and a reputation, at this point) for cranking out unhealthy amounts of fun and borderline ridiculous punk music, and honestly, this puts them in a tough position. The delicate hints at progression and variation across the band’s past two releases make it obvious that they are self-aware; they know that they cannot keep putting out the same record, yet any drastic changes would likely obliterate their short-and-sweet charm altogether. With 21st Century Breakroom, the band handled the situation as well as any fan could hope and managed to put out ten cohesive minutes of pure, unadulterated House Boat, proving that it would actually be laborious to tire of such an outwardly entertaining brand of punk rock.
1. 21st Century Breakroom
2. Suburban Grit
Stream/buy on House Boat's Bandcamp!