Mansplaining, Dana Scully, Plan B, anonymous internet trolls: these are just a few of the timely topics tackled on Tacocat’s new album, Lost Time, the title of which is, yeah, a reference to The X-Files. Because these songs draw from the same well sucked dry by social media and the blogosphere, it’s tempting to take the band at below face value, cynically categorizing them as punk rock’s Halsey, eager to capitalize on outrage and nostalgia.
But that would be a mistake.
Sure, Tacocat operate in the wide, wild world of the internet in 2016, with its machine-gun misogyny and overuse of “SJW” slurs, but rather than cherrypicking buzzwords and hanging up their hats, Tacocat create songs so nuanced, and good, and just plain fun that they’re almost undermined by the at-a-glance cleverness of their song titles. And that’s a shame, because Tacocat write songs like the internet writes thinkpieces, only without the self-righteousness or condescension, and with the intent to survive rather than criticize. You get the sense that if they didn’t make these songs the Seattle band’s four members would perish, overtaken by a prolonged rage blackout.
Lost Time, Tacocat’s third studio album, opens with “Dana Katherine Scully,” an adulatory track about you-know-who that could read as a sarcastic takedown of internet culture’s meme-ification of the Gillian Anderson character, if it weren’t so straightforwardly hip on the detective. “‘Cause she’s the only one, thinking it through/ She’s got the shoulder pads, no-nonsense attitude,” sings Emily Nokes, in her honest snarl that transforms what could be a gimmick into a missive. And it’s that snarl’s transformative anger that fuels this album.
While songs like “Scully” and “Men Explain Things to Me” thrive on humor, early single and standout “I Hate the Weekend” runs on vitriol. Writing from her own point of view as a service industry vet, Nokes sings here about the “working stiffs” who have a “two-day fun permit” to flood the streets and ruin the lives of those of us who might call Monday and Tuesday our weekend. The song also touches on gentrification (“Paint the rainbow shades of beige/ Take down everything we made/ The neighborhood walks home afraid”) and so fully (and justifiably) exploits the quartet’s place in the world, which is currently very working class. Oh, and that’s saying nothing of “FDP,” which stands for First Day of Period and operates as a kind of spiritual sequel “UTI” and “TSS,” from Tacocat’s debut album Shame Spiral.
But, topicality be damned, let’s not shrug off just how badass the songs on Lost Time are, pure and simple. The album itself is the cleanest-sounding recording the band has produced in its near-decade together, and yet the edge is still there. “Talk” is an especially sharply observed take on the lives we’re all living on our phones, but it’s also musically one of the strongest tracks in Tacocat’s meaty backlog. Subtle handclaps, shifting tempos, and Lelah Maupin’s surf rock-cum-“Maps” drums create a claustrophobic mood that brings an urgency that wasn’t possible through the sheer BPM of the band’s earlier output. “Night Swimming” is just a bunch of summertime fun that justifies the band’s pop label, while “Horse Grrls” is readymade for the mosh pit — and also, paradoxically, line dancing?
When it comes down to it, Tacocat are maybe best understood in terms of that paradox, which really makes it tough to get a firm grasp on the palindromic band. They’re at once punk, surf, and metal, and concerned with women’s rights, X-Files, internet culture, weed, and things as innocuous (but important) as girls who are obsessed with horses — all at the same time. That is to say, they are, like most human beings, multifaceted, and so do not only reflect the internet era but also manage to embody it.
This is not an effort to make the band bigger than they are. Tacocat are just four musicians making fun songs that barely hit the three-minute mark. But this stuff they’re talking about, while it may seem niche, is what plenty of people care about. Tacocat make music for people who live most of their lives online, and the musicians and artists and writers who find homes on coasts and also between them. They make music for those of us who hate the fact that we’re constantly tapped into virtual social networks, but have no choice because our livelihoods — or, for those of us removed from major metropolises, our sanity — depend on it.
Lost Time might not be the punk rock of the ’70s or ’80s, the Nevermind the Bollocks or Black Flag or, god forbid, Rage Against the Machine, but Tacocat’s punk does operate in a political world. It’s not the overtly political world of CNN or MSNBC, or even Trump or Bernie — though they’ve participated there, to great effect — but instead the politics of the personal. Even that distinction is trite, though; in 2016, the personal is more political than ever. The internet is a sea of personal politics. And who better to navigate that sea than a band whose name may very well be inspired by a meme?