Palindromic pop-punks Tacocat are a Seattle band that named their sophomore album NVM (the txt shorthand for “never mind”), because that’s hilarious and they’re not the type to worry about sacred cows. Prickly but relatable third album Lost Time covers territory familiar to anyone who’s spent time on the Internet recently: Dana Scully from The X-Files is pretty cool; Seattle is falling into the sea sooner rather than later; don’t read the comments if you value your faith in humanity. So what if the ripped-from-the-headlines approach can’t actually keep up with the pace of the Internet; who can? Lost Time (the title is another X-Files reference) is supposed to be fun.
The band has tweaked their sound only a little — a touch more straight-up bubblegum-punk where NVM was more enamored of a surfy, Guantanamo Baywatch sound — and their subject matter is virtually identical. “FDP,” an acronym for the dreaded “first day of period,” is a sequel to NVM menstruation ode “Crimson Wave.” A riff on mansplaining called “Men Explain Things to Me” follows logically from NVM’s “Hey Girl,” a sardonic catcalling protest, and “Time Pirate,” a complaint about a too-chatty acquaintance. Lead singer Emily Nokes is self-assured and possesses an under-appreciated capability for smokiness, most evidently on “Talk,” a song that manages to make handclaps sound dark. The band is firmly in their own corner, and it’s full of kitsch, candy, and strong women.
Tacocat are strongest when they’re generating new ideas. “Horse Grrls” is a song about the kind of kid who has a room full of collectible figurines and appears in public clutching a copy of Black Beauty. The slot might’ve easily gone to mocking bronies, @horse_ebooks, or another overexposed Internet phenomenon, but instead it’s a redemptive anthem for a much-maligned yet enduring tween subculture. Lead single “I Hate the Weekend” has a huge hook and the undeniable magnetism of an unpopular opinion, but it’s aiming way higher, attempting to draw a connection between faceless, bar-crowding desk jockeys and homogenized, neighborhood-crowding gentrifiers. The parallel doesn’t reach any conclusions, but a line like “save 16 bricks for the façade” speaks to a lingering tension between architectural and sociological tokenism.
But even the album’s highlights fail to land all their tricks, and Tacocat’s demonstrated ambition makes the misfires all the more frustrating. Take the aforementioned “Men Explain Things to Me.” It deserves to be a great song. It has one of the album’s best surf riffs, paired with a delightfully sarcastic rejoinder to men who feel over-entitled to public space: “This land is your land, in the palm of your hand / I’ll walk around so you can stand.” It’s derived from an excellent source: Rebecca Solnit’s 2008 essay (and subsequent book) about clueless men who doggedly insist on explaining her own research to her. Why, then, is Tacocat’s version a disappointment?
In short, because it’s less an expression of righteous indignation than a toothless echo of it, without any new insights to offer. Tacocat amplify the message, but as with any meme, amplification comes at the expense of fidelity. It’s particularly frustrating because we know they can do better, or at least bassist Bree McKenna can: The latest record by her other band, Seattle punk supergroup Childbirth, was chock-full of visceral, acidic send-ups like “Tech Bro” and “Since When Are You Gay?” Even Tacocat’s own “Hey Girl” had more bite, and steered clear of low-hanging lines like, “You’re a cliché / Useless in every way.”
If there’s any conclusion to draw here, it’s that Tacocat love to tour. Their creative decisions, and their less-than-creative ones, are all surefire crowd pleasers. Familiar structures and shout-along lyrics about popular topics make for a fun show. There’s nothing wrong with that; the choir deserve good sermons, too. Sometimes a record is a feast for the soul, and sometimes it’s a dozen chocolate cupcakes. It’s understandable why Tacocat wouldn’t find it in their best interest to mess with the recipe, but maybe it’s time they should.