Album Review: Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol, Big Dumb Riffs

rickshaw billie's burger patrol big dumb riffs 2

It’s hard to argue with a song called ‘1800EATSHIT.’ Even harder when it’s so damn catchy. Yeah, it’s a little counterintuitive to think of a record called Big Dumb Riffs as refined, but with their third LP, Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol are so clear in their intention and they deliver on it thoroughly enough to make it undeniable. Issued through their own Permanent Teeth Records, the album strips down the Austin, Texas, three-piece’s approach, honing in on tonal character, structure, attitude and, as “1-800-EAT-SHIT” assures, a solid amount of fuckery. Yes, they already their own beer.

The record takes place across 11 songs that span just 23 minutes, and could just as easily position itself as an exploration of the intersectionality between the masculine and the dumbassed writ through lunkheaded hardcore chug, nü-metallic palm-mute dissonance and the Primusian bounce that inspired it — looking at “Papa Pop It” for the latter and “Brat” for the former — stoner riff idolatry and hooks strong enough to hold them up despite the weight of tone emanating from Leo Lydon‘s eight-string guitar and Aaron Metzdorf‘s bass. Both of these dwell in a monolithic low-end space, but with such short songs and make-it-a-party tempos made all the more propulsive through Sean St. Germain‘s drumming, the momentum that opener “Clowntown” sets forth in its initial cycles of tense, head-down chug and subsequent sprint-out is unrelenting through the duration despite slamming into a wall of Even Heavier® brand mega-chug in the metalcore-style breakdown of “Peanut Butter Snack Sticks” on side A.

One thing to understand: Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol know what they’re doing here, and they’re doing it consciously. The short runtime, which is less than many EPs in a heavy underground that often prides itself on longform construction, becomes an advantage. On Big Dumb Riffs, the longest inclusion is closer “In a Jar” at 3:39 and seven of the 11 songs are under two minutes long. They get in, hit hard, make their point, get out. They are not lazy, as the sneering ’90s-style circle-mosher “Whip it Around” clearly demonstrates across its devastatingly efficient 55 seconds, leant a sense of freedom by dropping the pretense of being about anything other than the physicality being conveyed, which is all the more effective since it’s about headbanging, itself a physical act.

Light on flourish by nature and aesthetic choice, they offer a sneering, sometimes-aggressive stance through Lydon‘s vocals and lyrics like, “Stop being a bitch, like your mother,” in “Papa Pop It” or just the screamier backing lines shouting the title later in the penultimate “Blue Collar Man,” which answers both the meaner-sounding distortion of “Peanut Butter Snack Sticks” and the Claypoolish underpinnings noted above following the gets-up-and-runs “Bastard Initiated,” where they foster a similar clenched-teeth tension to that of “Clowntown,” working quickly in a no-bullshit-and-playing-at-being-all-bullshit manner that those who picked up what Rob Crow put down with Goblin Cock should find refreshing. Three dudes in the band means a total of six middle fingers. They all seem to be up here, however busy their hands might otherwise be at any given moment.

As much as Big Dumb Riffs is what it tells you it’s about — i.e., riffs, big, dumb — and as much as Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol have put into making it a fun listen, which is absolutely is, there are also some fairly dark themes. I haven’t actually seen a lyric sheet, so pardon if the quotes aren’t exact (I’m happy to correct whatever needs it), but “Body Bag” is the rolling centerpiece that kicks in after “Whip it Around,” and it and “Papa Pop It” both seem to be about suicide on some level. The verse in “Body Bag” tells the story of a protagonist who takes their own life after “Trying to be mama’s little twinkle in her eye,” and, “His father didn’t want him in the first place but he came in first place,” opening to its catharsis in the stuttered, “Ma-ma-ma-ma-mama, I’m about to have a heart attack” and concluding with, “I loved you but you didn’t say it back,” as the backing vocals join in for “You’d better put him in a body bag,” and they ride the chug through a last chorus around that line for another minute or so.

Outwardly poppier (go figure) and likewise grim in substance, “Papa Pop It” is framed as an imperative: “Papa pop it/Papa pull it/Do it,” and what’s happening there is someone telling, almost daring, their father to kill himself. Between these, the ultra-catchy fuck-you of “1-800-Eat-Shit” — which will no doubt be a sing-along on however many tours the band does for the record — as well as the pointedly-mom-voiced “You love it!” that oozes mockery next to a line about nostalgia being a sack of shit, the taunt in the repeated “Whatchu gonna do about that?”s of “Brat,” and the fact that “In a Jar” despite its turn toward patience and more peaceful, semi-doomgaze-comedown feel, is about murder, the vocals delivering the lines “Keep my hands…/Wrapped around your throat,” like wistful post-punk before rolling into the chorus that makes it plain with, “I’m gonna fucking kill you,” without departing the subdued-in-context last-minute drawl. “Blue Collar Man” encapsulates working class disillusion in the single lyric, “But it wasn’t the plan for the blue collar man” — daring to have a point and make it — and both “Clowntown” and “Bastard Initiated” execute their willful arrogance with a decidedly negative bent.

And I’m not sure who or what “El Sapo” (“the toad”) is about, but its 49 seconds of mute-chug and concluding gang shout come across like homage after the fact. What one might take from all of this is that while Big Dumb Riffs directs itself toward truth in advertising, there’s complexity in how it goes about that, and while its songs are short, they want nothing for persona or narrative. That St. GermainMetzdorf and Lydon accomplish this side-by-side with their stated goal of simplifying their sound even from where they were on 2022’s Doom Wop (review here) isn’t to be understated — it makes that act of breaking a thing down to its most essential parts a creative progression — and whether you take it on with that in mind or you put it on just to blow your speakers and pummel your brain with its chunky-style depth of frequency, fair enough. It feels like Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol have arrived at the point they’ve been working toward for the last seven years, harnessing primal rhythm and uniting around a single sonic purpose with a deceptively multifaceted confrontationalism. Fuck around and find… yourself?

Rickshaw Billie’s Burger Patrol, Big Dumb Riffs (2024)

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