The Vanilla Milkshakes are a punk rock trio hailing from Denver, CO. They have a compelling character for a frontman in vocalist David McGhee who is gay, autistic, an ex-junkie and formerly homeless, so he is not short of life experience. His partners in crime are Frank Registrato on drums and JanKarl Hayes on bass and together they produce a highly entertaining racket that sounds like the musical offspring of Bleach-era Nirvana and, well, The Offspring.
Other quirky pop punk bands like Weezer, Blink 182, Fall Out Boy, Presidents Of The United States and Green Day also make their influence known, though they have a ‘rough round the edges’ quality that was more favoured in the grunge era. This album, humorous titled How To Ruin Friendships and Influence Douche Bags, consists of 13 tracks which were, remarkably, recorded, mixed and mastered in only 17 hours (John Lennon would have approved of that).
The songs are mostly breakneck speed and always fun, and never outsmart their welcome. The way McGhee misses the occasional note and the way the backing vocals are often a little off pitch adds to their ramshackle charm. Whether or not this is an affectation is not important, they get the balance just right between goofy and plain incompetent. They screw up, but they can definitely play, and more importantly, they ‘rock’.
Whilst it has been extremely well recorded and produced by Bryan Feuchtinger, don’t expect the polished pop punk of Fall Out Boy, they aren’t that kind of band. Like Kurt Cobain, the lyrical message behind the songs is often a celebration of low self-esteem and revelling in the outsider/loser social category. Opening track After School Special rips the chords from Nirvana’s classic B-side Downer and marries them with an unpredictable but fun vocal melody leading to a super catchy “Whoa” chorus.
Second track At Odds With God seems to satirize those who spend their time reflecting on unsolvable philosophical questions and has a fun sing-along “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” chorus. Third song Brand New Sound shows their quirky Weezer influence and typically shows vulnerability: “I know I’m complicated…I want a cat, something that will love me back…”. Again, it features a fantastic hook, simple yet incredibly catchy (“She’s addicted to a brand new sound...”).
I’m No Prize Myself is them at their pop-punk purest, a hundred seconds of breakneck paced fun that ends hilariously with a chant of “F*** you, I hate you…” over and over. The song is short and sweet but helps the flow and momentum of the album nicely. Idiot Colorado is an interesting song, written from the perspective of being a fan of a band but not being regarded cool enough: “I was never a part of your scene..whatever you did, it preceded me…getting down front, getting drunk, having fun, singing along to all your songs...”
Tall Boy/Ska Boy is another enjoyable burst of hectic punk rock while You’re Not Cool is an alternative take on a friendship song, a celebration anthem for the outsiders of the world: “I’m a reject, I’m a defect…and that’s what I like about you!“. When so many band’s are desperately seeking to be ‘cool’, celebrating the opposite idea is what is truly cool in my book.
Seattle is an amusing track that pokes fun at the city’s legendary dour reputation (“I wanna go where I know I can get apathy…” runs the chorus) and bad weather (“it’s gonna rain for the next six weeks…”) and of course references the grunge movement. Definitely another highlight for me, full of great hooks.
Kreep is another great song with some lacerating lyrics about a relationship gone sour (“hope you die alone…..”) with perhaps the most driving, powerful chorus on the album (“I was only a creep to you…”) and was my personal favourite. Next track Dance! Robot! Dance! seems to be a darkly humorous song about suicide (“So damn typical of me to chicken out….”) though perhaps that subject is a little too serious to make light of.
The One That Goes is one of the heaviest tracks with some fabulous drumming from Frank Registrato, and a reminder that this band can really ‘kick ass’ when they want to. By contrast, I Need A Dollar is simply Daniel and his guitar, recalling his homeless days. Starting with a sigh, he fluffs the chords throughout and even stops on a wrong chord and says “Whoops…” and carries on. It’s a touching, emotionally raw song made all the more human by the screw ups that most bands would edit out with Pro Tools.
Overall, this is a highly enjoyable album that wears its emotions and imperfections on its sleeve and is all the more endearing for it. In David McGhee they have a frontman who has a genuinely unhinged, quirky charm that reminds me of Craig Nicholls from The Vines, who has had his own share of manic behaviour and difficulties through having Aspergers. They have captured dynamic, high energy performances on tape due to the quick recording process, and been vindicated in their approach. They deserve a huge fanbase.
Verdict: 8.4 out of 10