The Pulsebeats: Lookin’ Out
CD | DL
Released 13 November 2021
Lookin’ Out is a record full of playful homages and brilliant storytelling that’ll take you back to the halcyon days of punk rock. None of that’s surprising, of course, since Louder Than War’s own Nathan Whittle is lead vocalist and guitarist of The Pulsebeats.
The album starts with Skippin’ Stones, a song that sounds like a 90s-era resurgence of the sounds of The Clash and Joe Strummer’s reverberating voice. If only Amy Heckerling could have had access to this song when she was making Clueless. It’s easy to imagine how it could have found its way onto the soundtrack, and I write that from a place of great reverence for Heckerling and the incredible sets of songs she’s put together over the years in her work. I suspect The Pulsebeats are also thinking about the links between sound and vision on the record, especially on the track Life As a Movie. References to the physicality of analogue film reels — those cigarette burns — turn music into metaphor.
Of course, the tracks on Lookin’ Out are more than just fitting for a 90’s film. They also conjure the rock pulsations of some of the West Coast punk sounds that emerged on Lookout! Records before the turn of the millennium. If The Pulsebeats had been on one of those Lookout! samplers in the early 90s, I’d have been hooked (and, let’s be honest, I’m hooked now anyway).
Those West Coast references extend down the coast, too, as tracks like (She Sings Like) Joey Ramone play. Almost like a counterpart to the Ramones’ own Danny Says, but with more classic Ramones-esque guitar and beats than the Ramones themselves put into that Southern California-centric song, the Pulsebeats’ (She Sings Like) Joey Ramone solidifies the meta-punk work the band is doing in both sound and lyrics: “Saw her in a record store/ in Silver Lake or was it Echo Park./ Chewing too much gum./ And the band played on.”
And the music video is everything you could want from DIY punk graphic design work. The tri-color palette immediately calls to mind the White Stripes’ 7” sleeve for Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, and, by association, the Michel Gondry music video for that single. While the live action in The Pulsebeats’ video is limited to the band playing, the lines and colours gradually become players too, creating movement that rocks frenetically to the rhythm of the song.
The almost postmodern reflexivity across the record makes for active listening while revealing the wittiness of the band’s lyric work. Tracks like Hot Glue It! seem to reference the Ramones’ Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue and the punk zine Sniffin’ Glue, while the spectre of Marc Olson appears on the radio in Life As a Movie. The band’s referentiality is also on display in the music video for (She Sings Like) Joey Ramone, with the musicians clad in varying vintage band T-shirts.
Lookin’ Out is also filled with some fantastic, irreverent storytelling. Let me take you back and forward on the album. Mathilda’s Rifle, the second track, conjures The Dictators in sonic form, with traces of “Handsome Dick” Manitoba’s voice belting out the words. Yet this song from The Pulsebeats is doing so much more. It plays with genre, reversing the trope of the western hero to the beats of New York City’s East Village.
The fifth track, Burn the Guy, builds on the band’s storytelling chops, bringing a little bit of Dylan to the sounds of vintage punk rock. Many of the songs also reflect a contrast between the words and pulses we hear, with the lyrics revealing a darker and more cynical outlook on the world as power chords and rapid-fire drumming spur the music on. Tracks like Heart Attack and Coma State, which close out the record, remind us of playful yet devastating visions of the future as only punk rock can portray it.