Punk tropes are everywhere on the self-titled debut from D.C. trio Spirit Plots. Most tracks are driven by frantic drums, distorted power chords, and talk-sing yelping from lead vocalist David Johnston. No cuts exceed the three-minute mark. Song titles are written in all-caps, but the record diverts hard on the genre’s most classic element: anger. The songs here may be fast and loud, but everything is instead tinged by an irresistible silliness.
It’s not like the lack of vitriol matters, though. Spirit Plots’ best quality is just how overstuffed with indelible pop hooks it is. Take the song “Cars In The Country,” for example, which is committed to a Guided By Voices-level of brevity. In less than 80 seconds, it manages to shift between three different melodic movements—all of which feel beamed out of classic indie-rock tracks. If this sounds like it could be overwhelming for a passive listener, it’s not. “Cars In The Country” may oscillate quickly between its many ideas, but the transitions are seamless and the giddy punk vibe never wavers.
The entirety of Spirit Plots stays mostly true to this—rambunctious, guitar-driven rock songs that come and go at a quick clip—but on repeated listens, it’s the tracks that tweak the band’s formula that become the most memorable. Album highlight “PSSST,” with its slowed down tempo and hits of cowbell, plays as a loving homage to Wowee Zowee-era Pavement, solidified further by Johnston’s stoned, Malkmus-esque observations like “Come on/ You’ve only got the outlines” and “I dreamt about the pistols at dawn.” The same can be said about “Capture and Repeat,” which stands out thanks to the addition of a few simple keyboard phrases.
As a band, Spirit Plots’ most logical relative in the current D.C. music scene is BRNDA, whose album Year of the Manatee approached punk rock with a similarly goofy, fun-loving perspective. But where BRNDA’s record felt poignant and topical even while its songs stayed eccentric and impressionistic—check the words on the album’s biting, doleful cut “Go Bi”—Spirit Plots’ lyrics don’t hit as hard. A main reason for this is the way the album is engineered, with the vocals placed in the middle of the mix rather than at the front of it. As a result, the listener is drawn to the music first: Javier Diaz’s crunchy guitar riffs, Sammy Ponzar’s pulsating drum hits. Johnston’s words, though audible, are relegated to more of a textural, background role.
This also may be a consequence, though, of how busy and hook-laden the songs are. It’s hard to internalize the lyrics if you’re struggling to catch your breath on a track like “Hey Custer”—which moves so quickly, you probably don’t hear Johnston’s hilarious, biting plea to “Bury all your chillwave dreams” until your third or fourth listen.
Therefore, the best way to approach the album is to get swept up in the mad, manic energy of it all. Throw on the anthemic “Carrying Curses” at a party if everyone’s sick of The Strokes. Clean the house to the bass-heavy “Sever The Ties.” Mix “Late ’80s-’90s” into your Elephant 6 playlist; it’s happy-go-lucky chorus puts it a few vocal harmonies away from being an Olivia Tremor Control song. Even as the album’s sonics stay the same, Spirit Plots is defined, above else, by its merry, indefinable sense of entropy.