ZERO BOYS – Don’t Shoot Can’t Breathe / Long Way To Go

Active since 1980, Zero Boys emerged from the US hardcore punk scene, but the sounds on this twin tracker owe almost nothing to the influences and styles most readily associated with that vein of musical history. They have a retro and punky spirit that can’t be ignored, but the Zero Boys of 2023 present have a brilliantly melodic core that draws as much from garage rock and punk ‘n’ roll, and does so in a way that appears to create a sound that pre-dates most actual punk.

The punchy ‘Don’t Shoot Can’t Breathe’ mixes a political message with an arrangement that brings out the very best in a choppy guitar riff. Its verses rely heavily on a marriage of spiky buoyancy and semi-aggressive vocal that often sounding like a lost post-punk classic, driven by cymbal-free drumming, and that in itself, sets up an immediately enjoyable tune. Its the arrival of a much punkier chorus that cements the number’s greatness, however, and mainstay Paul Mahern’s natural performance adopts an extra anger as he delivers the main hook against a brilliant, wordless counter harmony. With little room for padding, the expected lead guitar break is replaced by a sharp edged middle eight which, although rather under played, actually has the effect of making a final round of the chorus sound even sharper. In and out in under three minutes, its the kind of track that will remind everyone why a solid garage/punky sound never gets old.

On the flip, the band opts for something punkier during ‘Long Way To Go’, with sharp riffs inspired by a classic CBGB’s sound coupled with a howling rock ‘n’ roll vocal delivered in a high octane fashion. On this number, it’s drummer Mark Cutsinger who dominates, but beneath the noisier elements, you’ll find some superb bass runs from Scott Kellogg, whilst guitarist Dave Lawson’s playing continues to impress in a hard edged garage rock style. The lyric suggesting the US’s fight for equality on all fronts is far from complete is a solid fit against the tautly wound music, and the main hook, used aggressively and often, shows how a simple refrain is all that’s needed to sell a great track. In terms of punky garage rock, this is actually superior to the A-side, making the Zero Boys’ first physical release in a decade a more than solid return.

If you’ve had any interest in any of this band’s past works or incarnations, you’ll certainly want this…and if, somehow, Zero Boys have passed you by, this is the kind of direct ear-opener that’ll make you want to backtrack. However you approach it, this is a fine slab of plastic, guaranteed.

Pick up the record here.

June 2023