Pkew Pkew Pkew's new album Optimal Lifestyles comes out March 1
There was a time when Toronto’s Pkew Pkew Pkew were the sort of punk band who reveled, unquestioningly, in the grimy chaos of the mosh pit, or an up-until-the-sun bender, or a skate session in an abandoned pool.
But things have changed: the pit feels more like a workout, the bender gave way to a crushing hangover, and someone broke their wrist in that abandoned pool. That doesn’t mean that Mike Warne (guitars/vocals), Ryan McKinley (guitars/vocals), Emmett O’Reilly (bass/vocals) and David Laino (drums) will stop doing these things; it just means they realize they’re not good for them. So why don’t they stop?
Optimal Lifestyles, Pkew Pkew Pkew's highly-anticipated new record out March 1 on Dine Alone Records, doesn’t offer any solutions, but instead catalogues these behaviours with unflinching clarity and precision. Warne writes in the same tongue as plot-driven realists like The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, who actually went to Toronto to workshop songs with the band for this record.
“You know in school when you can hand your work in early, and the teacher will read it and give it back to you, and then you can really hand it in? Yeah, it was kind of like that," grins Warne.
A standout moment from those sessions with Craig Finn is the band’s latest single called “I Don’t Matter At All,” out now. Much like the album itself, this song is a giant leap forward for Warne’s songwriting, pulling inspiration from The Hold Steady, of course, but leaning deeper into the retro-rock feel of bands like The Strokes and Japandroids, too.
Steven Hyden of UPROXX expertly profiles Pkew Pkew Pkew in this very moment, declaring that Warne's "attention to lyrical detail set to crunching power chords immediately recalls the Hold Steady," solidifying the band's rightful place amongst their neighborhood antisocial, insecure peers like PUP and The Dirty Nil.
While Pkew Pkew Pkew’s 2016 self-titled debut angled more towards the minutiae of the late-20s punk life, Optimal Lifestyles steps back to look at the root causes. “Is this good or is this bad?” Warne ponders of the lifestyle Pkew sings about.
“It’s fun to live like an idiot, but it’s probably bad, also. We’re all constantly wondering if we’ve ruined our lives forever or not, being in a band.”
Song-by-song, Optimal Lifestyles lays out a journal of the type of living that Warne speaks of, but this isn’t a jokey, bro-ish shrug-off of his circumstances, and neither is Pkew’s a purely self-indulgent self-destruction. It’s an acceptance of life in Toronto, increasingly marked by hellishly-accelerated rent increases and unfeeling gentrification. More than anything, this record is about trying to cope with a city, an industry, and a world that increasingly doesn’t seem to give a shit about people—only money.
So Pkew Pkew Pkew cope by calling out the bullshit.
Pkew Pkew Pkew’s central thesis is that things might get fucked up, but there’s still value in trying. Warne testifies that though it’s a Sisyphean, almost masochistic struggle to be in a band in 2018, it’s better than the alternative, like joining the vulgar charade that is the fraudulently-earnest, vapid hugging-crowd at beige adult parties, where no one is really happy, but everyone pretends to be. At least Pkew are honest about where they’re at, and over time, one comes to realize that their sardonic wit cloaks a quiet optimism.
“There’s always something better, and it makes sense to try for it,” Warne says. “That’s the shitty and good part: you still do it, cause otherwise you’ve given up.”