Consistency, thy name is Ted Leo. Ever since Leo’s influential mod-punk band Chisel split in the late ’90s, he’s churned out album after album of increasingly sophisticated, punkish power-pop with his band, the Pharmacists. The group’s Matador Records debut, The Brutalist Bricks, is no exception; in fact, it might be Leo’s best release to date.
“The Stick,” a lightning-quick hardcore jackhammer, and “Last Days,” which sounds like the Sex Pistols with a Ph.D., draw from the ferocious tempos and raw riffage of his live show. Standout “Ativan Eyes” combines sugary harmonies, ’90s crunch and garage angst. In contrast, “Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop” features Leo crooning delicately over a bed of twinkling crickets and beefy acoustic guitar—tranquility that dissolves right away on “Gimme the Wire,” an ear-ringing attack of jangle punk. And “Bottled in Cork” and “Even Heroes Have to Die” are classic Leo joints, mod-rock shuffles that fall somewhere between Squeeze and The Jam.
In the end, Bricks doesn’t deviate much from Leo’s M.O. But the album’s combination of focused songwriting, its commitment to a variety of tempos and genres and its smart sequencing guarantees its greatness.