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May 8, 2004

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The town of Regina, Saskatchewan is perhaps better known for mounties, bison hunting and some of the coldest winters on Earth than for any sort of rock 'n' roll activity. As Jade Tree's first international signing, Despistado acknowledge the desolate, frozen waste-scapes of these surroundings by way of a sweltering, dynamic strain of sweaty, high-octane basement-punk. As a result, The Emergency Response has a sweaty, brattishly discordant sound that's more redolent of El Paso, Texas (in the late '90s) than the Vermillion Hills.

Reassuringly, Despistado make a wholly convincing go of it. Originally released last year on the Bedfordshire, UK punk label Boss Tuneage, their debut EP marries fervent punk-rock energy to leftfield pop hooks in a triumphantly breezy manner. Case in point -- the hyper-caffeinated opening salvo of "The Stirstick's Prediction", which whips up such a mighty sonic bluster that it often seems as though it's kicking and screaming its way through the speakers. The subsequent song's title might seem suggestive of truly ominous things, but the brisk, bruising "Can I Please Have An Order Of Girl With A Side Order Of Confused?" recalls the frenzied gush of hormone-addled youth and twentysomething angst. In addition to its punishing, hyperactive restlessness and jagged, arms-wide-open scream of a chorus, "Can I Please..." flexes the dual-vocal muscle of bassist Joel Passmore and guitarist Dargan Harding, who trade staccato yelps and yearning melodic howls with an infectious, moshpit-ready zeal. Then there's "Bubbles", which works a melancholy guitar refrain over a galloping clatter of drums, veering between clipped, jagged alertness and a soaringly cathartic wail. It's the kind of structural shift that so often falls flat in the hands of lesser bands, but here it seems effortless, natural and, frankly, downright exciting.

Emerging with a twenty-minute slab of artful punk rock that is emotionally resonant without ever seeming mawkish, Despistado display an artfulness that doesn't rely squarely upon discord or dissonance. Instead, the band exude punk rock as a unifyingly potent, terrifically impassioned life force, as well as a party to which we're all invited.


Allan Harrison