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Sick Weapons -- 'Birthday Gift' (McCarthyism/Reptilian)
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 4 stars)
Ellie Beziat has a wicked sense of humor. Some might know this from her raunchy act as a touring member of the Wham City Comedy Tour, but her work as the lead singer of the defunct punk act Sick Weapons can produce just as many laughs.
On "Birthday Gift," the Baltimore quintet's long-awaited debut (and only) album, Beziat half-sings and half-shouts self-deprecating, often hilarious lyrics about the afterlife of jerks and awkward interactions with the cable guy. Later, she spews a laundry list of reasons why she wants to have sex ("because I want to have a kid") before making a tennis metaphor ("I'll hit you back like I'm Andre Agassi"). Both of these songs have titles that can't be printed here, which further explains the attitude and spirit of "Birthday Gift."
The players behind Beziat provide a sturdy backdrop to the singer's fiery delivery, which is a marvel given the backwards recording process (the band's original drummer left during the recording process, and they brought in War on Women drummer Evan Tanner to redo the parts around the nearly finished record). The riffs -- twangy and danceable -- drive the songs forward, while the drums bang and clang with muscle.
"Birthday Gift," mixed by Chris Freeland, is also notable for how good it sounds. Punk records rarely sound this crisp: Guitars warmly resonate, and the drums' snare hits land with pop. Most importantly, there's clarity to Beziat's absurd words. If the record had been purposefully produced in a lo-fi manner or mixed with the guitars as the centerpiece, then "Birthday Gift's" impact would have been wrongly dulled. But Sick Weapons is a clever band aware of its strengths, namely Beziat's magnetic personality and showmanship.
While this is undoubtedly a punk album by a punk band, "Birthday Gift" shows the group's range extends beyond the genre's boundaries. "Love Me" begins with guest singer Tina Kalakay sounding almost angelic, singing the song's title a capella repeatedly before Beziat and an angry bass line transform the track into something much more sinister. A trombone shows up on the final song, adding welcome texture to an already rich record. Not all punk bands can pull off moves like these, but Sick Weapons does so seamlessly.
But the star here is Beziat, through and through. On the scathing "Anthony Bourdain's Earring," she gets revenge on the "No Reservations" star, who some thought furthered Baltimore's reputation as a city on the decline. In her bratty but loveable way, Beziat not only insults the TV host's fashion sense but also his battle with drug addiction. With her tongue firmly pressed against her cheek, she sings, "Come back when you're a junkie again and maybe this time we can be friends." It's a dark joke, but it's moments like these where Sick Weapons sound like one of the city's most promising bands. The fact that they're no longer together seems like the cruelest -- and most appropriate -- joke of all. --Wesley Case
February 25, 2013