By Mike Marlow
Pootie is the one-man, lo-fi project of Florida’s CJ McKenna, and Ripslack is a collection of tracks originally released via split EPs, cover collections and other standalone tracks. Stylistically, this release flaunts a cheap punky quality that appears both by design and inherent it’s homebrew style production. That brings me to my Word of Warning: this isn’t the sort of project that will appeal to listeners accustomed to a commercially produced sound. However, those who revel in a lo-fi sound and a “too cool for school” punk ethos should appreciate McKenna’s ability to project an attitude which is simultaneously in earnest and not giving two shits.
Pootie’s sonic vocabulary draws heavily off mid 2000’s lo-fi sounds such as The Unicorns along with the indie rock golden years of the mid 90’s like Pavement mixed with the straightforward attitude and melodic sensibilities of Fat Wreck Chords-style punk. All of these sounds and attitudes are wrapped up into one unique, but relatable, package. Drums and bass with a few layers of simple guitar form the foundation on which McKenna’s vocals swing from just a solo voice to a raucous chorus of overdubs. At its least chaotic, the simple vocal melodies lilting over bare reverby guitars are highly reminiscent of The Microphones. But these moments often give way to guttural, punk-inspired interjections and driving choruses.
Ripslack particularly shines in its madness. Just when it seems to teeter over the edge of disorganization, McKenna’s vocals come crashing in with layers of careless, wanton harmonies that remind you this was never meant to be viewed as high art. Never is this clearer than at the climax of his cover of Tim McGraw’s Where the Green Grass Grows. The song builds from just one lone voice at the first chorus to a couple harmonies to a whole group of careless near-shouting voices. The track ends with a silly epilogue of a few overlapping layers of McKenna singing snippets of other American artists’ songs ranging from Travis Tritt to Harry Chapin to REO Speedwagon.
McKenna’s clear strength is his ability to deliver a melody. He probably won’t be trying out for The Voice any time soon, but his ability to phrase his lead vocals and support them with overdubbed harmonies has a distinct character and is the driving force behind Ripslack.
One of the standout tracks in this collection is the opener “T.M.F.A.F.” which appears to be the repetition of the same verse over varying styles thrown at the audience in an experimental incoherence. It barrels from a noisy punk intro to a delivery reminiscent of Lou Reed’s deadpan on The Velvet Underground’s The Murder Mystery into something vaguely Devo-esque among other vessels for the same lyrical theme. It’s experimental, it’s strange, and it seems like a fruitful direction for Pootie to explore.
The major downside to this release is that it really is just a collection of tracks without a clear direction. It seems, for Pootie, Ripslack is more of the journey than it is a destination. The track list consists more of covers than original material. I really hope to hear something more ambitious from McKenna under his Pootie project in the future. Whether that be a couple song EP or a full album, Pootie’s lo-fi punk style could produce something exciting if CJ McKenna decides to funnel his creative efforts into a more cohesive release of original material. But until then, Ripslack is an enjoyable release for those who already enjoy a cheap, no-frills rock aesthetic.