The pulsing drums and reverb and wah-laden guitars kicking off her debut solo album serve notice that Alice Bag is here to rock and that we all better listen up. The first track “Little Hypocrite,” which admonishes us to “stop pretending” and living lies, is the LA punk icon’s opening salvo in a cutting and sassy journey through a maelstrom of social and political issues. That Bag, vocalist for the pioneering East Los Angeles punk band The Bags, has so much to say and does it so directly, begs the question why she waited decades to help us through these issues. This superb solo effort was worth waiting for.
The brilliance in Bag’s music is how she juxtaposes serious topics with a playful variety of sounds and rhythms. Some of her most urgent subjects are sugar-coated with 1960s girl group splendor, replete with strong backbeats, lush back-up vocals and wall-of-sound production. Using musical stylings from the pinnacle of American pop music is a smart choice for delivering her cautionary tales about sexual assault and domestic violence. In “The Touch I Crave,” Bag’s passionate voice is hauntingly evocative of Ronnie Spector as she moves from lounge-ish rhumba verses to driving, staccato choruses that are classic Bags material. Her effortless transition from topic to topic is equally matched by her band’s deftness with ’60s pop, rock, punk, and Latin rhythms and ballads.
Tapping her experience as a public school teacher, Bag dissects her subjects with an incisive ease that is beyond reproach. Where many artists struggle, Bag is triumphant in her explorations, expressions and opinions. In the chorus of the pop/rocker “Programmed,” fighting the urge to pump your fist and tap your feet is futile as she exclaims, “education be damned, we are being programmed, I shine a light that’s not reflected, I’ve got my own perspective.” From beginning to end, Bag’s debut album is a modern pop masterpiece and, perhaps, one of the most important recordings of 2016.
Her July 2 record release party at The Echo in Echo Park demonstrated that Bag and band are equally captivating live. Before a sold-out, capacity crowd, the band, and numerous guest artists, tore through a dozen or so songs in 45 minutes. Bag sang, pogoed and danced with more energy than performers half her age. She ended the set with “We Will Bury You,” a powerful warning to Donald Trump. The crowd, represented in mass by the East Los Angeles music scene and early Los Angeles punk torch bearers including members of The Brat, Legal Weapon and many others, were in lock-step unison as Bag denounced the demagogue and declared his imminent demise.
Alice Bag’s debut release and her recent performances, which included an east coast tour, are gifts to the pop, rock and punk genres and elevate her status to one of the most significant artists in music today.