Girls Against Boys’ relocation from the late-Eighties Washington, D.C., punk scene to the New York of the Nineties made sense. The albums the band subsequently released on Touch & Go dripped with an urban-flavored sleaze: 1995′s Cruise Yourself and 1996′s House of GVSB smelled more of a city that never sleeps than of backroom deals on Embassy Row. But while the bigger city suited the band, a bigger label, Geffen, did not. In 1998, GVSB’s fifth album and major-label debut Freak*on*ica cruised right on by its potential audience–legions of postpunk devotees, ultra-sensitive to rock-star poses–like an anonymous limousine with tinted windows.
The band, dropped from Geffen when the label was bought by Seagram’s, has returned to the emo-indie Jade Tree nearly four years later with a sixth album, You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See. Singer/guitarist Scott McCloud is still a suave barfly, but this time he’s got vital critiques of every scene that passes for cool. Between chunks of noisy guitar genius on "All the Rage," McCloud sneers, "Pussycat, what’s new?" In the chorus he complains, "No one gave us a warning that your world was so boring" before the band calls for a "culture shock right now." It’s a scene assault of sorts, one that probably feeds on New York nightlife but still ripples all over the mainstream.
Throughout the album, McCloud brings some instantaneous hooks and striking choruses to GVSB’s powerful dirges without sacrificing the throb created by samplist/bassist Eli Janney, bassist Johnny Temple, and drummer Alexis Fleisig. The result is probably the most accessible yet potent record of the band’s career. Twelve-year-old GVSB have followed postpunk to an unrivaled conclusion: The band is cool and curious where so much current rock is patently ingratiating. All 11 tracks find the band distilling and intensifying its sound. In particular, GVSB produce an uncharacteristically soaring chorus on "Kicking the Lights" that owes something to the anthems of D.C. legends One Last Wish.
But it is cutting remarks that McCloud specializes in. "Basstation" combines white noise and dark dance grooves with hipster field notes like "everywhere cool is nothing new." On "300 Looks for Summer," McCloud (in blasé bad-boy guise) quips, "I don’t like Hollywood." At the end of the night, McCloud and Co. are like angry night owls hungry for something more than another after-hours scene. Somebody hail the rest of us a cab.