Gentle Leader is the fourth album from Peach Kelli Pop, and their first full-length release in three years. Back in February the surf-pop-punk band shared a special Record Store Day release, “Crooked and Crazy” from the Which Witch EP. It was, as the title suggested, an angular track of contrasts – self-reflection, a kind of desperation, and a strength of defiance that we’ve come to expect from songwriter Allie Hanlon. But what of the album?
Gentle Leader, is as a knowing title – and almost as playful as “Which Witch”. The sequence deploys the usual arsenal of Peach Kelli Pop weapons. Jangling and spiked guitars riff over exuberant percussion, and a bass which bounces, rolls, and bounces again. There’s a tightness to the musicianship which reflects a new collaborative endeavor within the band. Previously it was Hanlon almost entirely at the helm of shaping album material. Now, Gentle Leader offers a description of the band as full collaborators and the results are a complex exploration of tones.
Continuity throughout the songs is measured well. Album opener, “Hello Kitty Knife” plays with urgency, and inhabits a kitsch-punk space of a band like Shonen Knife. It’s a track that builds plastic toys to melt them into new purpose. This thing bursts from the gates, it’s keen to impress, and it hits the mark well. Like many of the songs here – it sits around the two minute mark. It’s strength lies in it’s brevity. Punch, punch, and punch. It’s wonderful.
The energy undulates well, and “Honey” by The Marine Girls, offers a gentler, more straight-fowardly sweet moment. The vocal track here represents a high point in the album. It’s so smooth the smiles are audible in the mix.
With few direct references to the things that torment Peach Kelli Pop the album carries a good number of more subtle targets. There are clearly people and things in the current landscape that get under the collective skin of the band – but they’re countered by cleverness and a kind of maturity that few bands achieve.
“Parasomnia” is a serious song. On the one hand we’re dealing with obsessive desire, and on the other we’re dealing with ourselves, and our own weakness when it comes to self-control. Like “Crooked and Crazy” the material here shows a band that values self-determination over apportioning blame. If the shape of things is something that disturbs you Peach Kelli Pop’s message appears to be “Get yourself in shape, THEN go kick against the pricks”.
An album of contrasts that pulls the listener into various different directions, at it’s center Gentle Leader is a collection of songs with a smart continuity. There’s a through-line in the band’s fighting style that sustains grace, weighs punches, and lands everything it throws. So, whilst issues are eclectic, the filter that’s held over the subjects unifies the vision. This is how Peach Kelli Pop frame their appraisal, and this worldview is consistent.
Smart, sharp, and undeniably strong Gentle Leader, overflows with the kind of energy that keeps punk sunlit, and in this case vital.
HURRY – LISTEN – PEACH KELLI POP
PHOTOGRAPH BY GINA NEGRINI