By Eleni P. Austin
Trying to describe Public Access T.V. using just one or two adjectives is nearly impossible. The band’s sound encompasses Punk, New Wave, Power-Pop, Glam and Post-Punk. Although the four-piece has barely been together for two years, their full-length debut has been one of the most hotly anticipated albums of 2016.
John Eatherly grew up in a small town outside Nashville Tennessee and became obsessed with music at an early age. With his parents’ blessing he dropped out of high school to play drums in the Garage Punk band Be Your Own Pet. He also began a side project, Turbo Fruits, with bassist Max Peebles.
In 2005 the BYOP signed with the British label XL, (who had yet to hit the big time with Adele). In the span of three years they toured and recorded, releasing five EPs and two albums. By 2008 they broke up.
Eatherly headed to New York, crashing first in Brooklyn and then the East Village. He got work as a studio and touring musician, ultimately working with artists like the Smith Westerns, the Virgins and Eleanor Friedburger. (Formerly half of the Fiery Furnaces). After six years he had written a backlog of songs, finally he was motivated to start his own band.
Moving to guitar and lead vocals, Eatherly recruited ex-Virgins guitarist Xan Aird along with drummer Pete Star (ne’ Sustaric), who was previously behind the kit for buzz bands like Oberhofer and Library On Fire. He also reached out to old pal Max Peebles to complete the line-up.
After months of intensive woodshedding, they played their first gig as Public Access T.V. in early 2014. Although the show, (at a friend’s East Village dive bar), was hardly publicized, the joint was packed with record industry weasels and hipsters, plus a smattering of friends.
They chose the name, Public Access T.V., (sometimes abbreviated as P.A.T.V.), as sideways homage to seminal bands like Public Image Limited (PiL) and Television. The buzz for P.A.T.V. was immediate and intense. Their first single, “Monaco,” was written one day and recorded the next and immediately uploaded on a music sharing site.
Following the song’s release, New Music Express (NME), England’s premiere music publication, included P.A.T.V in their “Top 40 New Bands For 2014” list, later referring to them as “New York’s hottest band.” A bidding war ensued and the foursome signed with Polydor. They immediately headed out on tour. By the Spring of 2015 they were opening for Post-Punk icons Gang Of Four.
During the California leg of their tour, the band woke up to the horrific news that their apartment building, along with two others on the block, had exploded in flames, killing two people. Three members of P.A.T.V., as well as their manager, Ben Goldstein, all lived and worked in the apartment. Authorities quickly determined that an illegal gas line, installed for the woman who owned the other two buildings, was to blame. (She was later charged with involuntary manslaughter).
After completing the tour the band returned to the East Village to survey the damage. Although they’d lost possessions and even their recording studio, that was nothing compared to the loss of life. With no place to live the guys couch surfed for a bit and headed back out on the road with the Palma Violets. In May they released a six song self-titled EP and then set out for England to begin recording a full length record.
Although they had amassed at least 20 songs, the band took their time recording at Doghouse studios in Oxfordshire, with Palma Violets front-man, Chilli Jesson, along with his associate, Milo Ross behind the boards. In the meantime, the deal with Polydor fell apart.
P.A.T.V. ended up signing with Cinematic Music Group, an imprint from Sony/BMG, the label that mostly specializes in Hip Hop. Initially, it seemed like an odd match-up, but much like the deal Rival Sons worked out with the Death Metal label Earache, Cinematic gave the band the freedom they required to record their album their way, without any interference.
While half of the record was recorded in England, Eatherly felt the remainder of the songs required a little more finesse. So they returned to the U.S. and finished the album in New Jersey and Nashville. Finally (Finally!), their full-length debut, Never Enough has arrived.
The opening track, “In Our Blood” comes careening out of the speakers, anchored by a whip-crack rhythm, slashing guitars, strutting bass lines and infectious vocals. The lyrics question society’s need to pair people like Noah’s Ark, when sometimes, promiscuity is a biological imperative, (just ask Donald Trump). This trenchant couplet says it all; “We set our lives to be together, but it’s in our blood to sleep around.”
Romantic misunderstanding is the theme that threads through the record. The Glam-tastic “Summertime” opens with sinewy guitar, tinkly piano and a handclap beat. Here, a potentially brutal break-up is tempered by the promise of new conquests; “I need a foreign kiss, that old girl I will never miss, I won’t ever want to reminisce/So come on, I’ll go insane from that ball and chain, and she’s to blame, yes her.”
Sleek, shuddery guitar, prowling bass fills, serpentine synth colors and crackling a back-beat power “I Don’t Wanna Live In California.” Although they concede “metropolis is played out,” the remains backhanded homage to the Big Apple. Sure, the five boroughs of NYC are overflowing with heartache; “She’s a siren with a song, sings everything you long, and she won’t take your calls anymore.” But it’s preferable to the Golden State. The instrumental break that follows the sing-songy chorus is an arch juxtaposition of jagged guitar riffs and shimmery synthesizers.
Sometimes being in love can be the loneliest feeling in the universe, “I’m In Love And I’m Alone” expands on those mixed emotions. Over tensile bass lines and a rock steady beat, the guitars take center stage pivoting from a stripped-down Stonesy groove adding sparkly colors and wiry tremolo riffs.
Nearly 40 years ago Elvis Costello characterized his earliest songs as being driven by “revenge and guilt.” P.A.T.V uses that same template on a couple of tracks, “Remember” and “On Location.” The sunshiny melody of the former, accented by jangly guitar and propulsive rhythms almost camouflage vaguely homicidal couplets like “Down by the water, that’s where they drowned her /Yet they would cover it up, just to wash up later.”
The latter is buoyed by spacious guitar riff-age that splinters into angular shards following the first chorus. The brittle instrumentation mirrors the lyrics’ bitter tone, spinning the familiar yarn of an ambitious actress willing to do anything to further her career.
The best tracks on “Never Enough” are a crisp synthesis of the band’s myriad influences. “End Of An Era” offers a rather meta commentary on the death of Rock N Roll. Blending plinky piano notes, wah-wah guitar riffs and an impossibly hooky chorus. They acknowledge auto-tuned Pop and EDM have polluted the airwaves; “Maybe the end of an era, as long as we keep dancing all night baby we might keep it together/Turn it up, turn it up, it’ll be alright.”
“Evil Disco” opens with a yowl accompanied by chunky, Glitter/Glam power chords before downshifting into a coiled Power-Pop anthem. The melody and arrangement shares some musical DNA with the Rick Springfield early ‘80s classic, “Jesse’s Girl.” Jittery rhythms, gamboling guitar and anxious vocals layer over a twitchy tale of Disco denizens looking for their next illicit thrill.
Finally, on “Sudden Emotion” prickly guitars collide with a wash of synths and a kinetic beat. The cryptic lyrics seem to advocate for delayed gratification and are “dedicated to the ones who bloom so late now.”
Other interesting tracks include the expansive and anthemic “Patti Peru.” The melody is tethered to a galloping gait that provides ballast as guitars strafe and swivel. Meanwhile, there’s a cinematic sweep to the modern day Doo-Wop of “Careful.” The album closes with the candy-coated crunch of “Sell You A lie.”
Public Access T.V.’s long-playing debut was definitely worth the wait. Adroit and assured, It takes a plethora of perennial influences and gives them a 21st century swagger. The results are positively thrilling. Never Enough is one of the best albums of 2016.