Petroleum By-Product is a Vancouver new wave band of twentysomethings that use their music to spread their socially conscious message, advocating a "plastic-free" ideology.
I recently had the good fortune to get to know the very talented, upcoming new wave band when they opened for You Say Party! We Say Die! at the Rickshaw Theatre last week. I wrote a my thoughts and feelings about that concert and was later pleasantly humbled and surprised to be contacted by synth and lead vocalist, Sally Jørgensen from the band, who gave me some very supportive feedback and insight.
Bassist Vanessa Turner and drummer Robin Borawski round out the trio, who formed in 2007 in high school, as they released their debut album in 2009, Artificial Superficial. After a busy week and exhausting their streaming page on CBC Radio 3, I finally downloaded their album on iTunes and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The band seems influenced through the bygone eighties punk scene, a generation of stylistic excess. Their name is conceptualized from the idea of a “plastic generation” referring to a decadent age and society. This idea and how it plays today and the irony that comes from their youthful quality and intriguing beats that subvert their influences and references them while adhering to that kind of musical style and image is rather infatuating.
To quote Jørgensen in response of my concert review, she laughs off my assessment of their nerves on stage, admitting that, "Vanessa and I still get [so] nervous before shows even though we've played so many. Sometimes my fingers shake so much that I begin to trip over all my keys. We were doing jumping jacks in the back room to try and ease off our anxiety before going on stage." That kind of youthful exuberance and carefree attitude is artistically refreshing. Hopefully, they continue their good work and ascent to become a unique voice of this generation of Vancouver music.
Furthermore, Jørgensen set aside my affection for Petroleum By-Product and welcomed my criticism. "It's good to get criticism and sugar-coating is not going to help any artist improve if there are areas they need to work on. [...] And you know, it is something that can be quite good for artists." This mature focus and open dialogue about their work shows on stage as the trio have fun performing in spite the creative stresses, while refraining from taking themselves too seriously.
Reading their profile in ION Magazine, they were described ironically and somewhat affectionately as a "bratty, snotty, alternative-schooled new wave act," but in my limited exposure to them, I get a different vibe from the post-punk rock act. These no-longer amateur rockers who are looking to go pro, teeter on an edge of controlled recklessness that defines their music. Watching them perform, I was charmed by their focus on rhythm and beats that engulfed the small theatre, despite minor acoustic and sound problems. Their talent is in the quality and genuine nature of their songs. These musicians don't know better and are better off for it.
"TV Date" is their catchiest, most pop-sounding single and it shows its distinct rhythm and smooth beat. It is the kind of song that you feel can permeate a loud nightclub and have the chorus drumming in your head all day, the morning after. "(Ain't Got) Money" and "Salty Voyage" round out a selection of twisted old era riffs laid with contemporary mixes which work together to form an eclectic sound that reverberates from the stereo in a smooth, easy-listening manner.
I am a big fan of the early 1980s post-punk era and scene that gave us Joy Division (later New Order), The Pixies, The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, and other such luminary bands. What I feel Petroleum By-Product does best is capture the spirit from such a downbeat, depressing, somewhat anarchic time and gives it a contemporary feel that is much more upbeat and optimistic yet playfully ambiguous. Their sound gives off an original but familiar vibe that is danceable and un-ironically sublime.
That being said, my biggest (sort of) criticism of the band is that they are still relatively new and it shows. It is clear that their best work is yet to come. From their performance, I gathered that they were still finding their voice within their music and have work to do refining their sound and stage presence. Of course, their skills and music will benefit from further practice and play but their recorded music is slickly produced and evasively intriguing. Their potential is clear and I only hope they live up to the promise they show.
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