Of all the words used to describe Western Addiction, ‘positive’ feels the least fitting. After all, the San Francisco quintet plays decidedly aggressive West Coast hardcore topped by the scratchy yowl of vocalist Jason Hall.
But ‘positive’ appropriately describes the content of the group’s third full-length. Yes, it’s called Frail Bray, and yes, song titles include “Utter Despair” and “Deranged by Grief.” But the actual theme of the album more-so resembles hope and rejuvenation.
Make no mistake: Western Addiction hasn’t gone sunshine and rainbows. Frail Bray remains as aggressive as its predecessors. Guitarists Ken Yamazaki and Tony Teixeira sound huger than ever, with Mitch Paglia’s knotty bass lines in lock step with Chad Williams’ intricate beats. And Hall opens the album with an attack on destructive capitalism called “The Leopard and the Juniper.” But listen closely, and hope sneaks in. It’s in the two-part celebration of motherhood, “Rose’s Hammer I” and “Rose’s Hammer II.” It’s in “Laurette” and the perpetual rejuvenation of “Wildflowers of Italy.” It shines brightly in “We Lived in Ultraviolet” – a straight-up love song.
The point of view isn’t the only thing that’s different on Frail Bray. Since forming in 2002, Western Addiction has defied easy categorization, and Frail Bray finds the band slipping further beyond the confines of hardcore. “Rose’s Hammer II” swaggers like Queens of the Stone Age, “Wildflowers of Italy” nods to classic rock ’n’ roll, and album closer “Deranged by Grief” recalls Suicidal Tendencies by way of Simon and Garfunkel, one of Hall’s favorite groups. Western Addiction’s attack has grown more nuanced, and Frail Bray’s 11 tracks show the band crafting songs that comfortably draw from a wide swath of rock ’n’ roll while retaining punk’s ferocity. Western Addiction tracked Frail Bray live to tape—another first for them—at the Atomic Garden in Oakland in late 2019. The band spent most of the preceding year writing and working tirelessly on the songs that would become the album. Frail Bray shows how that dedication pays off.