With a band, the name matters perhaps as much as their sound or ethos, especially for fans. It’s just plain fun to tell someone, “I’m a Radiohead fan,” or “Yeah, I listen to the Beatles” or “Mitts yeah I know about A Hell of Heaven!” Caveat lector: So far as I can tell there is no band named A Hell of Heaven; nonetheless, in my head, they would sound like Plague Vendor do in real life.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Plague Vendor sounds like the kind of band made up of young men you wouldn’t want your mother to meet unless you were going through a rebellious phase. It’s the kind of music you’d expect to be playing at the punk rock Kentucky Derby—galloping, effervescent, clip-clopping along with the same equine muscle as the Derby stars.
There’s a kinetic bend apparent in the band’s playing—wobbling bass, hopping drums, chafing guitars—but it’s no more apparent than in lead singer Brandon Blaine’s delivery and demeanor. He sounds like a high, mad parrot—which belies his skinny, sapling-like build—resounding full of furious energy.
The vocals are various on Free To Eat, full of shouts and brilliant effusions of noise. Blaine just about starts rapping in the middle of “Cursed Love, Hexed Lust,” and he even screams like a power drill—for 20 straight seconds!—on “My Tongue Is So Treacherous.”
In a funny way, it’s these strengths—Blaine paired with the rest of Plague Vendor—that undercut Free To Eat as a whole. The album gallops headlong for 20 odd minutes and by the end you’ve become disoriented by the whole process. After a certain point—in my view, song four i.e. “My Tongue Is So Treacherous”—the album loses its distinct verve and just starts mindlessly plodding. The band keeps its kinetic bend, but sacrifices a certain edge.
Nonetheless, if you’re enticed by this style of music—or you just love the heck out of a name like Plague Vendor—Free To Eat is just the thing for you. It’s a pretty remarkable debut, when all is said and done. And if by some miracle someone decides to start a punk rock Kentucky Derby, I know who I’d want to fly in from L.A. to headline it.