The dazed, gritty alt-rock that Culture Abuse play isn’t too difficult to come by, but theirs has a level of underlying intent that’s rarely seen elsewhere. Their debut album Peach came as a source of great catharsis, reflecting the devastating losses of two close friends, eviction and drug problems, as well as the looming shadow of frontman David Kelling’s cerebral palsy and his mother’s pulmonary hypertension. But from a love of touring and travel comes Bay Dream, finding Culture Abuse embracing a more positive outlook that seeps deeply into a much sunnier, laidback sound.
Therefore, the sonic overhaul feels as natural as possible, replacing Peach’s jagged guitars and grinding, oppressive atmosphere with the fuzzy, Californicated sound that Weezer did so well most recently on The White Album. Granted, the fact that Culture Abuse aren’t quite as good is Bay Dream’s most noticeable flaw, and it’s difficult not to notice the reference points that a song like California Speedball pull from and subsequently feel a bit too similar. To their credit though, there definitely seems to be a conscious effort to differentiate themselves within what’s become a very cut-and-dry sound, like with the burlier, driving guitars of Dave’s Not Here (I Got The Stuff Man) or the whirring synths that make the already scintillating S’Why even more infectious. In truth though, Culture Abuse’s sound is likable enough on its own that it’s not all that necessary to do anything with it; the production keeps hold of a sun-kissed sugariness that provides a solid, distinctive foundation as it is, and there’s a youthfulness and childlike brightness to Kelling’s vocals on a song like Bee Kind To The Bugs that only complements the warm, laidback feel even further.
As for the lyrics, they come to feel like the culmination of Culture Abuse’s mindset and how it’s changed over the past couple of years; Rats In The Walls and Dip both come early on to outline the hardships of city living and finding time to hold onto loved ones respectively, but closing out with Bluebird On My Shoulder’s sunset-dappled recollections dressed in shimmering guitars and subtle but steady bass and drums, there’s something so irrepressible content and serene. And again, plenty of bands have done something like this with more or less the exact same basic arc, but the context of Culture Abuse’s career makes it feel earned all the same. It might be simple, but it says everything it needs to, and that’s the main thing.
And even with all that, it’s not too difficult to see why some might be disappointed with Bay Dream, particularly if they go onboard with Peach. It’s simple, washed-over beach music at the end of the day, a fair distance away from the band’s debut both musically and thematically. But there’s so much heart to Bay Dream, pushing it past another throwaway summer rock album into something more substantial and heartfelt. A few influences might be used a bit too liberally and too often to call this a great album, but Culture Abuse’s recent positivity makes this a captivating, entertaining listen all the same.
For fans of: Weezer, Beach Slang, The Menzingers
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bay Dream’ by Culture Abuse is released on 15th June on Epitaph Records.