It would be unfair to say Ted Leo is on autopilot at this point of his career; after all, he’s consistently delivered dynamic, top-tier punk rock that’s continued to resonate with indie kids and your NPR-listening dad for over a decade now. But if we’re going to be honest, he’s based his entire lifework on a single style—that being, of course, topical, hyperactive libretto over immediately gratifying hooks. Luckily for us, that style has remained remarkably fresh over the venerable span of eight records. His latest, The Brutalist Bricks, changes no games, nor does it reinvent any careers, comfortably subsisting as another 13-song collection from the ever-churning Leo. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Brutalist Bricks‘s only immediately tangible curveball is a thickly strummed, “Hey Ya!”-esque acoustic guitar that permeates into the foreground on some of the record’s otherwise more suppressed tracks; everything else sustains the breakneck pace Leo has maintained for years. The album opens with a colossal stage-smasher, “The Mighty Sparrow,” which hits the same highway-yearning synapses as “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?,” quickly bending into “Mourning in America” with an equally feverish rip-roar, targeting its castigation at American political culture. That’s followed by “Ativan Eyes,” which, with its high-low chord progression, veiled lexicon, and watery bass-bump glory, is probably the most familiar track on the record. The aforementioned acoustic guitar is hardly hushed, and bubbles over with the same enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from the Pharmacists, backing up such high-reaching vocabulary as “No one lives forever now!” This is a Ted Leo album all right.
Despite its obvious ingredients and well-worn criterion, Brutalist Bricks comes off peculiarly fresh. There are simply not a lot of people making the same sort of music Leo is these days; his audacious conviction is so easily appreciable (and hard to recreate) that he’s almost immune to diminishing returns. And after a three-year break following 2007’s (slightly underwhelming) Living with the Living, it seems as good a time as ever for a new Leo album, even if all it does it simply reaffirm him as one of indie’s most prolific and continually passionate treasures.