I’m not sure what it is but after thirteen years the German Art Students still sound like a new band to me. Six years since their last recorded outing, 2005’s Name Droppers, this four-song EP inspired by the budget bill protests leaves GAS fans with the aural equivalent of sexual foreplay. If the members think they can just go back to family time now they’re probably mistaken. The buzz on the band is back in full force with rave reviews and several placements in local news outlets and television appearances. GAS fans are aroused and they want more!
There is little to dislike about the German Art Students. They’re reasoned in their lyrical approach and straddle the line between pop and punk rock with ease. Even though they lost an integral member when Andy Larson left the group in 2010 the GAS trademarks are still intact; an intelligence and awareness in the music but also a hefty dose of sharp-witted commentary.
Prime case in point is the title track, a song about Walker that somehow manages to evoke more pity than rage. The subject matter is damn funny but, then again, it’s downright pathetic. “He reminds me of somebody I’ve seen before / A scared little boy in the dark on the floor / I don’t think he read 1984 / I’ve seen it before” singer Annelies Howell observes over a folk-song chord sequence. The double-tracked vocal adds punch to the space vacated by Larson, one benefit derived from carrying on as a trio. “I wonder what he did in his sophomore year / Did he have any fun, did he drink any beer / Did he make any friends or just live in fear / His sophomore year” just about nails it. By this time the rest of the band has kicked in, the double-time snare drum on the 3 and 4 in the chorus is just plain cool and a brilliant touch. Like all great songs, it’s simple and to the point.
“HMS Funtime” uses maritime allegory (His Majesty’s Ship) to describe reaction to the political situation. Kirk Wall’s vocal implores “I just wanna get off this boat alive” over an angular guitar riff and a really cool bass line played by (I’m assuming) Howell.
“Jupiter,” is more whimsical and how it plays into the protest theme I haven’t quite put my finger on. No matter, it’s so goddamn catchy I can’t get it out of my head. Like an insatiable sweet tooth, this one satisfies the craving. It rocks just hard enough with a big, bold vocal blend, giving it a soaring quality. Again, the bass line here is central to the song’s propulsion and I’m drawn to it like the comet that hammered the planet some years ago.
The final tune, “Bible Camp” returns to the angular guitar statements found in many of GAS’s songs. It’s a humorous send-up that says what it needs to say in 120 seconds.
No nonsense, no bullshit, and in twelve minutes it’s over. It was fun but it’s like being on the carnival ride; you’re a little pissed that you waited in line so long for such a short excursion. Here’s hoping the success of this teaser will motivate the band to produce more material. Madison needs more of this type of salve. We’re suffering, yes, but the German Art Students have a way of helping us face the world with a smile and a knowing wink that the kids are alright.