MASS FM's "Punknique" is technically a debut album, but it doesn't sound like one.
The local band has polished songwriting and a fully formed sound: Angular, post-punk guitar lines and synth work; sometimes sneering vocal melodies.
It's a new group for two veteran collaborators: Guitarist Doug Smith and keyboardist Chris Bacon were members of the Volumen, a rock group that identified itself as "heavy new wave," which is a fairly perfect description.
Smith was one of their lead songwriters and vocalists, while Bacon contributed the synth hooks that immediately bring the band to mind. The Volumen were regulars at Jay's Upstairs, the city's punk/underground rock staple – the rare local band that could incite sing-alongs at their shows. (See "Sexy Astronaut.")
For MASS FM, Smith and Bacon grafted their heavy-pop chops onto a new rhythm section: Chris Baumann and drummer J Ryan "Dreamer" Weingardt.
"Punknique" is the group's first full-length album, following a three-song EP in 2015. They've become a regular, reliably energetic live act around the city: Last March, they were tapped to open for Texas group Explosions in the Sky, one of the few instrumental post-rock bands to ever gain a mainstream audience.
The nine-song, 29-minute album doesn't waste any space: The lengthiest track is only four minutes long.
The band clearly had fun tweaking their sound in the studio. It was produced by Baumann at his own studio, Black National Recording, where he's had an impressive run of high-quality records by local bands: Last month's "Annex," by the Magpies; "Separation Anxiety," by Wrinkles; "Basement Life" by No Fancy; "The Bodyguard" by Shahs.
Smith dabbles with a lot of different effects pedals that shift the sound of the band from the spare, dry tones often associated with post-punk. On some tunes they get heavy without drifting into metal or hard rock ("Greater than the Ocean," "Dark Cloud"). On others, he turns out utterly weird single-note lines that still sound cathartic and somehow melodic ("Pretty Shame").
Probably the best song is "Whose Side Are You On?," which prominently features an ascending-descending synth line over heavily strummed electric guitar.
In many ways, the band still is heavy new wave in some ways: The guitar and synth tones are proudly artificial in the manner of many 1980s groups in the genre.
The tightly scripted band, with hooks, bridges and guitar-synth interplay, will satisfy those Volumen fans looking for their fix.