It’s beyond fascinating seeing the growth of bands and even specific people in them over the years. Starting with Low Dose‘s last album in 2019, I began following Itarya Rosenberg who was the guitarist and vocalist for that band, as he is here though swap that guitar for a bass. When Rid Of Me (yes, named in honor of PJ Harvey) broke out of the ashes of Low Dose, I was happy to see him gang up with other established punk/rock dudes from the Philadelphia area.
Their first album Traveling was riveting and so promising with something amazing curdling underneath their darkly grunge punk sound, though in retrospect it was missing a small something. Whatever that something was – we’ll get into it – is here in abundance on Access To The Lonely and goddamn, this is one of the best noisy punk albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s very evident that the band have utilized the last two years to shape up and ship the fuck out of an album that will easily go down as a late entry into the year’s best.
The simplest way to summarize the difference in Access To The Lonely from previous Rid Of Me work is the punchiness and approach to production. Here, the quartet – rounded out by Mike McGinnis, Mike Howard (both on guitars), and Jon DeHart (drums) – really put a lot of work into making this new album hit hard. Traveling had a lighter feel to it, channeling some post-rock/-hardcore affectations for its wispy, hazy sound. It paid off, I love the album, but Access To The Lonely benefits so much from its direct take on their sound, leaning into some grunge elements a bit more, and getting a fuller profile on their production and mix.
Starting off with the self-titled (and I do mean ‘self’) track “Rid Of Me”, we see a grand transition of sorts with the song starting with these guitars notes hanging in the air like shoes dangling from power lines and Rosenberg’s sad boy crooning – the kind that stuff Traveling to swelling – dovetail into a punk powerhouse of melody and strength. Yelled vocals, rich guitar riffs, grumbling bass, and splashy drums absolutely action pack this opening song and I love it so much. Dropping this as a lead single was a damn bold move and I love Rid Of Me for it.
This is more so the kind of thing you can expect from Access To The Lonely as a whole too. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Die” brings to mind the poetic directness of riot grrrl classics, but it still manages to set its own tone with a similar ramp-up in intensity that “Rid Of Me” had. I love the lyrics in the song, particularly, ‘I fear you hate me, you hum and drag me along/You dig and bait me, some sort of nuclear song‘, or when the song reaches its chaotic apex with Rosenberg screaming, ‘I’d rather be dead than pick up the phone‘ (same, bestie), while the drums pummel along to thrashy tempos and the guitars and bass hold strong. There’s so much emotion in this track and it’s one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing from the band, or any other project Rosenberg’s been in.
Playing to my tastes and biases, Rid Of Me really revel in the ’90s grunge sound without becoming a parody or losing their own identity – the perfect balance. “Gutted” is another astonishing offering with some of the smoothest, catchiest guitar work I’ve heard come out of this genre in a long time. It has a forlorn quality to it that I adore, as does “Pavement”. Rosenberg’s hushed vocals are key to this song’s emotionality, capturing a sense of helplessness or anxiety I haven’t gotten from them before, especially when they whisper, ‘Got this danger on my shoulder, always telling me that nothing is enough‘.
Hell, even a song like “Hell Of It” with its larger-than-life riffing sounds like Alice In Chains could have written it in the most chaotically wrought era of their eponymous album before Layne Staley died. If you know me, you know how big of a compliment that is. It’s also the song that sees Rosenberg drop the album’s name in the most searing way – ‘Got this feeling choking absence, will you hold me?/I’m the Devil made of access to the lonely‘. Such a good fucking line, like, tattoo worthy. It has this keen metallic feel that I of course take to. I also must shout out “Libertarian Noise Rock” (what a name) for similar reason as well. It’s a quick and dirty burst of melody and power that clocks in at just two minutes.
I don’t think I’ve been this enamored with a punk album since Savages‘ blazing debut Silence Yourself, an album I have quite an affection for. While they aren’t terribly similar, Access To The Lonely plays with personal hells and the tempestuous reality of human emotion and relationships. It’s raw and dirty, trashed from years of abuse from others and yourself, rebuilt haphazardly with drugs, tattoos, sex, whatever vices you choose to death grip while you aim an extended middle finger in directions of those that have done you no good. But don’t mistake that for trite rebellion – this is a pained album, expressive and therapeutic, the kind that just ultimately makes you wish and hope the people who wrote it are in a better place now like many other classics into which souls were bared and hearts were poured.
I’m still reeling from this album’s honesty and profound growth, and likely will well into next year. Simply put, Access To The Lonely is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year and beyond, regardless of genre even. It has a way with words – not so much saying the right thing, but the thing you may need to hear regardless of its initial venomous sting. Two years have treated Rid Of Me the same way ten years might treat other bands or artists who require growth to stay relevant and exciting. That’s unheard of, but surely a testament to their specific brand of poignant, tense, heavy punk that has some real demons to contend with. Maybe that’s what makes this album so alluring and relatable. If that’s the case, we all need therapy.