Don’t call it a comeback. After an extended hiatus, California’s No Bragging Rights have returned with their first new music since 2014’s The Concrete Flower. Like that record, this self-titled EP is being released on Pure Noise, which was actually started by Jake Round in order to put out the band’s 2009 album, The Consequence Of Dreams. Now comprised of vocalist Mike Perez, who started the band in 1999, Martin Alcedo (drums/vocals), Daniel Garrow (guitar/vocals) and Anthony ‘Tron’ Laur (guitar), the four-piece produced these seven songs themselves. Recorded between Laur’s home studio and Decade Sound Studio, both in Tacoma, WA, it’s an invigorating blast of melodic hardcore that pays homage to their past while also bringing them into the present.
“Daniel and I would write these songs,” says Laur, who also engineered the record, “and give Mike and Martin blanket ideas – like ‘This one is kind of triumphant but has no resolve to it, so I don’t know what that means to you but you should aim your writing towards that’ to help curate the attitude and personality of each song.”
“When we were first brainstorming ideas,” says Alcedo, “we all agreed we wanted it to sound nostalgic, so people know they’re still listening to No Bragging Rights, but we also wanted to elevate it to the best of our ability. It’s got some of our heaviest stuff, some of our most emotional stuff and some of the most technically challenging stuff, but it’s still classic No Bragging Rights.”
Indeed, one of the most recognizable No Bragging Rights traits is in full force here – that trademark attitude of resilience and defiance that has defined the band from the very beginning. That manifests itself both in the way these surging, energizing melodies combine crunching riffs and soaring guitars, the clean and unclean vocals battling each other across a blistering sonic soundscape, but also with the lyrics, which dive deeper than ever before into the world of mental health. Partly, that’s the band emphatically doubling down on their identity for this re-introduction to the world, but it’s also representative of changes that have occurred since the last album came out. In Perez’s case, he was in his final year of an undergraduate degree to become a social worker when making this record, which shaped his lyrics.
“I’m still writing for myself so I can connect,” he says, “but I do have others in mind as well. I feel like I try to ask questions – not just for myself but questions that other people may have. If I have answers, I try to put them in, but I’m more about asking questions.”
“I know I’m in the band, but I’ve listened to our records to help myself,” says Alcedo. “And if they can do that for me, then hopefully this record will be able to help whoever wants to listen to it.”
From the moment the pummeling assault of “Strength’s Perspective” kicks off, it’s clear these songs are a crutch for anyone who listens. Whether they’re addressing struggles with addiction (“Walking Blind”), abusive relationships (“Breaking Point”) or just the past (“Regret”), these songs are so viscerally powerful that you feel them as much as you hear them. Yet, as on “Stages” in particular, Perez approaches the lyrics from an unusual point of view, though one that’s still totally gut-wrenching.
“Mike nailed it as far as taking themes and ideas that are therapeutic to write about,” says Alcedo, “but offering multiple different perspectives than what you’d normally be used to listening to.”
Another perfect example of that is “The Weight”. Written for a friend who took his own life – and ultimately addressed to his daughter – it’s possibly the most vulnerable song the band has ever written. And yet, despite the sadness that flows through it, because of its original perspective it somehow still contains, in the blackest darkness, an important glimpse of light
“I was talking with my buddy because he had severe depression,” says Perez. “He didn’t want to keep getting more medication because he felt like he was losing his humanity, so he asked me if I knew of any more holistic approaches that he could do with his medications to boost it. He would say ‘I’m gonna lose this, and I can’t leave my daughter. This is gonna happen, I don’t want it to.’ Hearing that, I just wanted to change the narrative. Because my friend knew who he was leaving behind and he didn’t want to go. But that’s how strong and powerful this thing is.”
While that’s the most harrowing moment on No Bragging Rights, the EP ends with “Unapologetic”, a song that was written, says Laur, “with the intention of having an unsteppable two-step beat, one that’s so fast you can’t dance to it.” It also serves as a powerful mission statement for the band, both now and in the future. Don’t call it a comeback, but – despite having lives and jobs and families – No Bragging Rights are back, and they plan to stay that way.
“We’d like to keep this going as much as we’re able to,” says Alcedo. “We’re all going to support each other with whatever’s going on, and if it doesn’t work for one of us, we’ll just wait until it works for all of us.”
“Whereas in the past I’d say the door was cracked,” offers Perez, “now I feel like the door is open. Mentally I’m back, I’m here. So if we can do something, if we can all be there, we’ll do it.”