What do Rage Against the Machine, Jane’s Addiction, and Filter have in common? They’ve all influenced the sound of Middle Class Rut at one time or another. Or at least, they parallel the band’s musical character. The Californian rock duo has a ’90s groove to their alt-rock style, being bolstered by a heavy industrial base and punk undertones. If their debut album No Name No Color wasn’t enough evidence of this, then their follow-up release Pick Up Your Head is conviction to listeners that Middle Class Rut is a band that wears their influences on their sleeves, and they’re finding their niche in the process.
The biggest difference between this record and the band’s first record is that Pick Up Your Head features a much wider array of instruments and musical vibes, creating a thick wall of sound and building a dense atmosphere. The most notable of instruments is the bass guitar. It gives each song a bit of bounce and implants a grungy swagger within the underbelly of the album. In the first single, “Aunt Betty,” the rhythms are beefed up and huge melodies sweep throughout the verses and choruses. The song’s industrial topicality brings out the depressive attitude of the lyrics (“Dust off the gears that move this machine / Cause they feel so old / They don’t work no more”). While the modern alt-rock vibe is still prevalent in the track, it’s obvious that Middle Class Rut is attempting to tighten their sound and further establish their identity as a duo of rockers shaped and molded by the past few decades of rock and roll.
While “Aunt Betty” is accurate in forecasting the mood of Pick Up Your Head, it’s a far cry from the variety of genres and influences encapsulated within the album’s interior. In the first few songs, the record’s veins are screaming punk rock. This is especially prevalent in opener “Born Too Late,” a hearty kicker that spews out confusion and chaos alongside a craggy hook that nearly bleeds out from the mouth of vocalist Zack Lopez, fronting itself to Sean Stockham’s smooth slapping of the drums. While the song is a jolt instrumentally, it’s the catchiness that continues to pop up throughout the rest of the album. “Leech” is very Jane’s Addiction-esque; in fact, it’s even a bit reminiscent of Bush. Its melodic chorus feels ready for a stadium performance. “Weather Vein” is a rowdy, memorable rocker, while “No More” comes closest to defining the musical nature of the record. The first few songs are a blast, despite not containing the same powerful energy of No Name Color. That’s not exactly a bad thing; the newfound energy of Pick Up Your Head is bigger, stronger, and more pronounced.
The acoustic-tinged title track is one of the brightest moments on the album. As the soft introduction leads into a jammy instrumental section, the song showcases the consistent variety found on the record. By consistent, I mean that Pick Up Your Head has tremendous flow, and none of the band’s wide array of influences seem to disrupt the album’s balance. Just from hearing the immense bass lines of “Dead Line” and the percussion smashes of “Cut the Line,” there seems to be a clear meshing of punk-powered grunge (Rage Against the Machine) and ’90s alternative (Jane’s Addiction). However, the modern twist on this mix gives Middle Class Rut’s sound a whole new feel. This feel is fueled by pessimistic lyrics, a brute force of instrumental clamor, and most of all, a rocky core.
Where sophomore slumps are becoming a trend in modern rock music, Middle Class Rut has jumped over every setback imaginable and produced an album that topples the greatness of their debut. No Name No Color was enough to capture the attention of radio stations and fans of indie, rock, and punk. The follow-up to a spectacular rookie release can be considered a triumph; it’s a much more accomplished entity. Each of the 12 tracks can stand alone. They are memorable enough to be played over and over again, yet dense enough to capture a procured timelessness. In addition, it’s blatantly obvious that this band has been taking after their ancestors, as the album’s atmosphere points directly at ’80s and ’90s bands like Rage, Jane’s Addiction, and even Smashing Pumpkins. But whether or not you’re a fan of older rock and roll, listen to Pick Up Your Head, as it may end up being one of the best musical adventures of the year.