The opening title track of Foulbrood, the sophomore LP from Two Inch Astronaut, has all the trademarks of a great pop song: memorable chorus, super-sized hook, and addictive, inviting harmonies. The band has a penchant for resilient, hardcore-inspired punk, an inventive formula that hasn’t changed since last year’s debut, Bad Brother. What has changed? Its intent, because on Foulbrood, good times are never made to last. Based in Colesville, Maryland, the band’s sound has always been rooted in D.C. nostalgia, but here, Two Inch Astronaut reach a turning point. Older, wiser, and even further out of step with the world, Foulbrood offers a sharp, innovative angle.
After downsizing to a duo for the recording process—Sam Rosenberg on guitar, bass, and vocals, and Matt Gatwood on drums—Two Inch Astronaut stand mighty as ever. For live shows, they’ve enlisted Andy Chervenak (Grass is Green) on bass. Contrary to many of their fuzzier counterparts, Two Inch Astronaut maintain a sound that’s angular, impeccably tight, and well-defined; instrumentation is crisp and forceful, with complex chord patterns impossible to follow, but totally cohesive. Foulbrood wields an acute power that’s bitter yet soothing: it’s a remedy mixed with equal parts dynamic math rock, abrasive emo, and searing post-punk.
“Foulbrood” may suggest a sunny disposition from the outset, but as the record soldiers on, its themes become heavier, meatier, and carry more weight. “What do you do when you can’t count to two?” Rosenberg questions on “Type Four”. From beneath his pleas, guitars crush, squeak, and shiver their way through shifting rhythms. “What the fuck is wrong with me?” he continues. The song, like all of Foulbrood, is a show of solidarity via universally relatable sentiments. Sadness abounds, but it doesn’t sound woe-is-me, it just sounds human. “Cigarettes, Boys, and Movies” bemoans a bygone youth that’s long been dead, while the cinematic riff on “Whole Crew” blasts through negative energy with penetrating fury. “We aren’t so different,” the track suggests, a humble statement to counter its massive sound.
Fittingly, the center of the record lies in “Dead White Boy,” a compelling ode that links current events with universal themes of loneliness and regret. “He was in one of my classes,” the tale begins, and as its narrative unfolds over seven angst-ridden minutes, it grows increasingly menacing. “Tell me, did you really like him that much?” it repeats. Soon, the track becomes aggresively in-your-face: “I want you to be able to look at me for once.” On “Dead White Boy,” it’s impossible to look away.
Foulbrood doesn’t glamorize or condone the more macabre aspects of life; it merely acknowledges they exist. The record’s sludgy path is laden with multiplying twists and turns, but as these dark moments add up, it eventually comes full circle. “Black Moon Nightstick” is grim as you’d expect, but as far as album closers go, it’s gentle and encouraging. Maybe not quite optimistic, but satisfying just the same.