ALBUM REVIEW: Joey Valence & Brae – ‘PUNK TACTICS’

Artwork for Joey Valence & Brae’s ‘PUNK TACTICS’

At no point other than the TikTok era of music would you find an act like Joey Valence & Brae. Or to be more accurate, an act with a significant ongoing career. This is a duo primarily based around ‘90s street-level hip-hop (one very specific act most notably) and nerdy pop culture references; in the alternate universe where TikTok doesn’t exist, there wouldn’t be an A&R rep alive who’d deign a career to these two. But that’s not the universe we live in, is it? And because of that, getting to a point where Joey Valence & Brae can embark on world tours and rack up monthly streams in the millions is almost inevitable. Not objectionable though, as they’ve already hit the sweet spot of being a terrific live act and interweaving their oversized personalities with that of their prime influence to actually land on something really fun.

So let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way—Joey Valence & Brae sound so much like the Beastie Boys that it’s barely worth repeating anymore. Everyone else is already well aware, to where the duo have effectively built their brand around it now. It’s not like anyone else is doing the same thing though, and PUNK TACTICS’ brevity and form of wit geared to a Gen Z audience points them as spiritual successors rather than outright copycats. Still, the homages are blatant, even at the very surface. You only have to listen to their voices, as Joey Valence brays and cackles like he’s doing a deliberately nasal Mike D impression, while Brae has the more equable tone as the analogue for both MCA and Ad-Rock. Going from there, their primary musical vehicle consists of beats in which percussion is the dominant element, tied together with a lot of samples. Hell, go even further down still and you’ll find examples at their most granular, like how STREET PIZZA sees them try their hand at scabby hardcore punk, or how CLUB SANDWICH is so obviously positioned as their No Sleep Till Brooklyn with its opening riff.

Please be aware though, these are merely observations, not criticisms. This is an approach that still has miles of runway left, particularly when it’s not lingered on. Very few tracks on PUNK TACTICS clear even three minutes, meaning the duo can come in, deliver a few well-timed cracks, and get out with nothing at all weighing them down. And that helps immeasurably when the screaming, crowing voices and nerd-rap and comedy-rap glances could ring as painfully obnoxious. There’s an obviously performative take on hip-hop swagger and domineering, built around reference upon reference to video games and comic books that, in the stakes of this genre’s outward nerdy angles, is about as stock standard as being a deliberate cornball gets. But when that’s such a major part of the bit, juicing it for all its entertainment value is Joey Valence & Brae’s best possible play. Liberal cribs from the ultimate act to make it work will get you there.

It does need to be noted, however, that confidence is the main trade that Joey Valence & Brae peddle overall. It kind of has to be, if only to cover what feels like a set of production that’s unmistakably bedroom-produced, often based around opulent samples that still aren’t without their homespun fidelity. Thus, it’s the two performers left to really paper over the cracks, and if they weren’t as good at it as they are, it’s likely that PUNK TACTICS would be nowhere near as successful. Their flows are by no means incredible or detailled (when Logic shows up on TANAKA 2, the difference in technicality is stark), but it’s the abundance of swagger that gets them rolling at a fair clip. Particularly among a more online musical community, having such an enormous swerve from understated, purposely dejected ‘artiness’ does a world of good, as far as recognisability goes.

Then there’s the production itself, which does feel somewhat hamstrung by the smallness it really can’t escape, but as far as variety and sonic colour goes—plus how in-demand a sense of uninhibited fun is across the board—it definitely fits its role. The Gen Z-courting component does quite a bit for that, most notably on the hyperpop fragment of GUMDROP, and how brazenly memes (note the plural there) will be thrown into DELINQUENT (TEEN TITAN). Again, it’s very online to match the wilful nerdiness, which is definitely part of the point, but also, pleasingly, not the entirety of where Joey Valence & Brae are at. They’ll also throw in spikes of soulful horns on DANCE NOW and RN, and pronounced rave elements on DROP!! and STARTAFIGHT to widen their pool by a decent amount. All the while, they’ll be reliant on thwacking percussion to make this all seem exponentially bigger than it actually is, something that works wonders on the title track or WATCH YO STEP.

Altogether, it makes for the kind of album with an unavoidable shelf life, but which is also looking to squeeze as much from that limited time as possible. The fleeting moments of world domination that Joey Valence & Brae feel like enough, and PUNK TACTICS is where that comes to a head. Launching in, all guns blazing, with a distinctly flawed but enormously fun listen is really how to get the most mileage from this, at least in its current form. Even if they may always be chasing the Beastie Boys’ tail as far as legacy goes, there’s another perspective that still establishes them as their own entity, and burns a little brighter for it. Regardless of how you spin it though, there’s a lot of fun on offer here, to make the brief moments of screaming, cackling exuberance so worth it.

For fans of: Beastie Boys, The Prodigy, A Tribe Called Quest

‘PUNK TACTICS’ by Joey Valence & Brae is out now on JVB Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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