Soundcheck: Primal Brain - It’s Still All a Game 

The unruly Oklahoma City punk anarchists hurl another Molotov cocktail of anti-establishment anthems on noisy sophomore release.

click to enlarge Album art for It's All A Game by Primal Brain.

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Album art for It's All A Game by Primal Brain.

Parsing through Primal Brain’s music is like trying to analyze graffiti on an empty billboard. Bordering on incomprehensible without the aid of a lyric sheet, its furiously fast-paced punk songs are brash and forceful in their rebellion. Within the noise are messages of anarchy that never beat around the bush. They are exactly what they say, leaving little room for liberal interpretation. If there does exist a deeper meaning, it arises from the context, not the content. The capitalist billboard is necessary to understand the anti-capitalist graffiti, and therein lies the rub.

Following 2020’s debut, It’s All a Game, Primal Brain doubles down on that cynical sentiment in the most straightforward way possible with It’s Still All a Game. The Oklahoma City hardcore punk quartet promises more rage against corporate billionaires, government enforcement agencies, religious institutions, and environmental negligence. It delivers all of that in spades, but it does offer a bit more.

In a welcome break from the one-note tendencies of the genre, the new nine-track album brings a few memorable ideas into its mix, both sonically and lyrically. Curb stomp rager “Eat the Street” invites a surprise saxophone to spew gibberish while guitars squeal like a cassette player devouring tape. “Smiles in the Service Industry” pinpoints the artifice of soul-crushing low-wage restaurant work, baring how much resentment lies just below the surface. “The Happening’s Now” pulls from M. Night Shyamalan’s maligned film The Happening to provide motivation for Mother Nature to exterminate the human race while taking shots at empty celebrity woke rhetoric. Cinematic trivia also makes an appearance in “Interlude.” This intermission cools off and brings back the sax in a more subdued light as There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview monologues about how he despises literally everybody.

The band’s prior album fittingly ended with a cut about Dungeons and Dragons to underscore its concept of social and political games, and It’s Still All a Game mirrors that format with closer “The World Ends with Us”. Though not as well known, its subject is a cult JRPG video game called The World Ends with You which follows an antisocial protagonist navigating a cutthroat alternate reality in Japan’s Shibuya district. Like the prior album’s last track, it doesn’t pull too many thematic parallels between fiction and reality, opting instead to bestow as much legitimacy to the video game fantasy as the waking illusions of civilized life. If anything, the JRPG is more credible for being honest about what it is — a game.

It’s Still All a Game is a worthy sequel to Primal Brain’s buzzed underground debut. While not as full-throttle as that release, perhaps in part due to the mastering, it compensates with ideas, variety, and a greater degree of self-awareness. More than on its predecessor, the band acknowledges that despite all its rage, it’s still just a rat in a cage. In latent centerpiece “Cheap Dreams,” the lyrics question if class revolution may be as much of a delusion as anything it serves to fight. After all, the graffiti on the billboard will just be washed away, but then again, someday, so will the stains of humanity itself. As Primal Brain says in “Another You,” “There’s no escape.”

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