Did Subrosa Union replace pot with Jäger shots as their vice of choice? When I saw them at Flamingo Cantina a year ago, the Austin-by-way-of-El-Paso trio was jamming the kind of reggae-rock odes to Mary Jane that made Sublime and 311 popular with college kids in the ’90s. But when Subrosa Union’s latest full-length, One Night Stand, landed at my doorstep, I was blown away by the scorcher of an opening track that is “Penny Arcade.” The song is a full-speed-ahead pop-rock anthem with big crunchy guitar riffs and sing-along lyrics about a subject some of us know all too well: dramatic yet addictive chicks.
Using arcade games as a metaphor, frontman Michael Anaya lets the character of Penny know, “Ain’t got no time to nickel and dime with you.” Still, he concedes, “You got your hooks in me, and nothing’s for free.”
If anyone has mastered hooks, it’s this band. One Night Stand is chocked full of big, blaring anthemic choruses fit for rock festivals and pop-rock radio. They get in your head and never leave. If 101x, the local alt-rock station, isn’t putting this album on rotation soon, I don’t know what’s wrong with them. This is the kind of music that would do really well with their crowd.
And Subrosa knows it, too. The album’s lead single is “6th St. Beauty Queen,” a catchy mid-tempo admonishment of the big-haired, overly-made-up and scantily-clad ladies who act like anything but. Who in Austin between the ages of 18 and 30 can’t relate to that sentiment? Yet, I can totally foresee these “beauty queens” doing flavored vodka shots at Maggie Mae’s while completely unironically claiming this song as their jam. The song is geographically specific, but the theme is universal: “You always sleep in your make up, tomorrow you wake up, ready to black out and do it again.”
Not to downplay the band’s musicianship or songwriting chops, but this album wouldn’t have been possible without Alien Ant Farm’s Mike Cosgrove at the helm. It has that sugar-high glossy pop-rock feel from the dudes who transformed a Michael Jackson classic into pop-punk goodness. Cosgrove is the guy you want if you’re a young rock band at a crossroads.
Subrosa Union always had a pop sensibility (how else to explain their live Elvis Presley covers). But their reggae vibes kinda held their pop side from really shining. That’s all changed. Musically, the album’s title track shows shades of Weezer, Pavement or even Eve 6, but because of Anaya’s distinct vocals and the heavy bass, it’s still very much a Subrosa song. Cosgrove gets a writing credit on “Laces Loose,” the band’s ballad that uses running shoes and racing as a metaphor for having a crush.
The album starts to lag toward the end, as the band smartly put the best tracks up front. “Hurry Up & Wait” is a skippable track, rehashing all the ground that’s been covered in the eight previous tracks without contributing something new. Still, it’s kinda catchy.
Bass is what distinguishes this band from similar alt- and pop-rockers, practically driving the song “Start to Finish.” It helps that they came from years of playing reggae-infused rock. It gives Subrosa a sense of groove and rhythm that might not be a priority for other bands who center everything around guitars. Ultimately, Subrosa Union has crafted a satisfying pop-rock listen that will appeal to fans of alt-rock radio and maybe even some top-40 listeners.
Check out a short clip of their song “6th St. Beauty Queen” below.