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On one hand, fuck Rod Blum—the Iowa congressman who thinks D.C. needs a recession because he once saw “cranes everywhere” (or, in reality, cranes rising from the private Wharf development in Southwest). But on the other hand, his observation does highlight a hard truth in D.C.: The city is growing—fast. And for District residents who’ve been here for quite some time, it can often feel like the city is evolving into some kind of materialistic dystopia. (We can say that, Rod. You can’t.) It seems like every week another cherished D.C. landmark shutters (most recently, Bohemian Caverns and soon Millie & Al’s), only to be replaced by lifeless condos, overpriced tapas restaurants, and bougie chain shops.
It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, and that’s exactly the sentiment post-punk trio Puff Pieces captures with its debut LP, Bland in D.C. It’s 11 terse, anxious observations of the city’s rapid transformation and all the life that’s sucked out of it as a result. On the album, vocalist/bassist Mike Andre pulls no punches with his frank, often scathing lyrics about new D.C. It ain’t Chocolate City anymore; it’s since been replaced by something far more, er, bland.
Musically, rhythm and repetition is the glue that holds it all together. Guitarist Justin Moyer’s sparse, spazzy riffs (they rarely utilize more than a couple of chords) keep pace with drummer Amanda Huron’s tight beats, while Andre’s knotty, frenetic bass lines weave it all together. It’s a kind of spastic repetitiveness that echoes the airy minimalism of post-punk bands like Gang of Four and Wire’s early catalogue. And with such sparse music, it puts Andre’s anxious crooning front and center. His message can’t be misheard.
On songs like “Money” and “Cash Register,” Andre voices the inner monologue of the developers and business people responsible for the much of the District’s transformation, with the simple but blunt refrains: “Money, money throughout the land/ Money, money, more money/ Money, money, it’s changing hands/ Better get some, you dummy,” and “Gimme cash/ Gimme more/ Gimme cash/ Gimme more/ Put the cash/ In the drawer/ Gimme cash/ Gimme more.”
Here’s the best way to digest Bland in D.C.: Download it onto the portable music-listening device of your choosing, hop on the nearest Metrobus, and ride the route to completion. The songs are the perfect anxiety-fueling soundtrack to all the development—recent or in-progress—you’re guaranteed to witness on your tour. You’ll see the D.C. Andre sings about on “Y,” a kind of Tale of Two Cities riff set for the era of gentrification. In one corner, you have Citizen One, “the toast of the town/ Happily gallivanting around/ Living up in a condo of glass/ Watching the pointless people as they trudge past.” Meanwhile, there’s Citizen Two, who’s “not on the same page/ Menial work for the minimum wage/ Living up in a room with three more/ Feeling as if the future’s a big locked door.”
And just as the question washes over you, Andre asks it: “You gotta wonder… Why?”
It’s not all gloom and doom, though. The album’s most frantic track, “Wondrous Flowers,” is an ode to just that—the undeniable natural beauty that makes D.C. so special. “Flowers of June/ Flowers of May/ In the nice room/ On the nice day/ Wondrous flowers,” Andre sings. That’s one thing—hopefully—developers can’t take away from us.