A defining feature of Ellen and the Degenerates’ new EP, Herb Alert, is its speed. Not “quickness.” Quickness implies agility or the need for an evasion of some sort. Though the album is not even ten minutes long, “quickness” is not the right word. Speed, on the other hand, implies power, an outward force that can’t be ignored. The speediest songs appear at the beginning and end, though each song rips through with anger and intensity that is both personal and political (as if the two can actually be separated).
E&D (a foursome by the names of Elena, Greg, Josh, and Louis) announce their campaign with “Ellen 2020.” “It’s the party of the year” and the speaker can’t help but feel out of place. They worry about what clothes to wear, meeting friends of a friend, and whatever else may happen at a party. Of course, we eventually find out that the speaker is, apparently, “also super hot” and we should “elect [them] 2020!”
If anything, this past election showed us politics is little more than a popularity contest, the same as a high school election. The lyrics capture the materialism, sexism, and violence (both self-inflicted and inflicted from others) that occurs within the political culture, starting at an early age.
Lyrically, feminist thought and the realization that one needs to practice self-care permeate the album. This is symbolic in shaping the politics of the album as well, defining self-care as both a personal and political act.
Self-care is taking personal responsibility for situations, as Elena sings “I’m wrecking my mind” in “Smoochy.” However, taking responsibility still involves ignoring toxic people. During the bridge, with each verse beautifully placed between gang vocals of “oo-oo-ooo”, Elena belts “Don’t think I should be taking your advice/Well maybe I should think about this twice.”
It’s demanding spaces, especially spaces that belong to you and aren’t recognized. We see this with “My House,” as Elena yells repeatedly, “This is my house! You need to get out!” It’s not simply a moment of anger at a friend or partner. It’s a moment of clarity, an end to manipulation or abandonment or just plain apathy.
It’s demanding that people recognize your struggles and pain, as well as looking to change or shatter institutions that contribute to it. In the chorus of “Fair to Me,” the fact that humans are emotional creatures is validated with the simple line, “My feelings are hurt.” And, if things still don’t change, it’s time to stop caring about people that don’t give a shit about you.
This album may feel abrupt, solely because it is. It is too short, yes, but we accept it because that’s the punk aesthetic. They roll personal politics into a loud, angry ball of sound and let it build repeating themes with fresh, fast rock. The listener feels one vast, cohesive moment of emotion rather than five separate ones. “Ellen 2020” is the fastest and shortest song, but the breakdown at the end, which sounds more metal than punk, shows the band can think about the structure of songs as much as they do the expressions of politics. The juxtaposition alters your perception of time, as they make the outro feel as if it lasts at least a full minute (the whole song is only 1:05). The final track “Milk” pairs well with the opener, and with the weight added from the three middle tracks, the whole EP becomes coherent.
Overall, this is an album with a great musical and lyrical intensity but its still polished (like a politician, only better). The production doesn’t mask the instrumentation, and Elena’s vocals are perfectly balanced, not too quiet that the instruments take over and not so loud that it seems that’s all we should care about. And in certain parts, there’s a crisp flow that emphasizes the syllables and the meaning of the words. So, though half of the lyrics may actually be indiscernible, it’s still an album that gets it’s point across.
You can listen to Herb Alert, out now on What’s For Breakfast? Records, and other releases on their Bandcamp.