The tart bitterness of Acid Tongue’s ‘Bullies’

Acid Tongue” brings to mind something tart and acerbic — not a bad description of the music on the Seattle-based band’s second album, Bullies. The group’s headed up by Guy Keltner (singer/songwriter) and Ian Cunningham (drummer); other musicians are added as needed for touring purposes. 

It’s a glorious musical stew that draws on psychedelic rock, glam, a bit of hard rock here, a dash of pop rock there, all swirled together and reworked to come out all shiny and new. It’s not retro, but modern. There are echoes of “Sympathy for the Devil” in the “oo-oo’s” on the opening track, the sneering “Follow the Witch,” but there’s a sharpness to the music that lets you know you’re in the 21st century, not 1968.

There’s a discordance between music and subject matter that gives the songs the kind of edge that keeps you on your toes. In “Candy,” for example, Keltner’s slurring falsetto makes this ode to sweet treats (or so it seems…) a bit unsettling. The title track targets those oafs who make life difficult for the rest of us. Yet in Acid Tongue’s hands, that oddly becomes something to revel in. The mocking chorus, “Rich kids and bullies/They’re always out to get you/They’ll swallow you whole,” has the kind of cheerful buoyance that gets you to sing along in celebration.

“Jenny Lewis” is a bittersweet relationship song, with Keltner’s vocals having the tang of early-‘70s Bowie. It’s also perhaps something of an in-joke. The real life Jenny Lewis is an actor/musician, whose second solo album is entitled — Acid Tongue. The ups and downs of relationships are very much on Acid Tongue’s menu, especially when the musical pace slows down, as on the anguished, tortured “Sometimes.” This track kicks off the album’s downbeat turn in the final third of its lineup, leading to the ballad of resignation that is the pretty, bitter “Forty Years”; if things have been bad for that long, no wonder the state of things sounds so mournful. “Pray to any God for a new direction”? Maybe you’re better off single! “Am I (The Only One) brings the album to a wistful conclusion, though there’s a boost from the breezy string backing.

String arrangements appear elsewhere on the album, giving “Liars” a patina of Sgt. Pepper/Days of Future Passed extravagance in the panoramic instrumental interlude in the middle of the song. Then there’s the giddy pleasure of “Walk Don’t Run.” The pulsating track is the kind of number you want playing as you’re blasting down the highway. And even though the lyric suggests another nod to resignation (“Your situation isn’t any worse than mine … Maybe how we live is good enough”), how can that be when the beat of the music pushes you on, faster and faster? 

A spirited album from a band that sounds like they’re just getting started.

(Check out Bullies below via Bandcamp and get more info about Acid Tongue HERE.)

Gillian G. Gaar

Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel. She was a senior editor at the legendary Northwest music publication The Rocket, and has also written locally for The Seattle Times, The Stranger, and Seattle Weekly, as well as national/international outlets such as Rolling Stone, Mojo, Q, and Goldmine, among others. She has written numerous books, including She’s A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, Entertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana, Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback, and World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story. Follow @GillianGaar on Twitter.

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