Pardoner: Good times, good vibes and vigorous noise

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CAME DOWN DIFFERENT Pardoner’s latest album details the ups and downs of playing in a band that faces the challenges of growing up in an uncertain political and economic climate.

Pardoner came together in the dorms at San Francisco State, drawn together by their love of punk rock and a collaborative spirit. “We’re all from different parts of California,” said Max Freeland, one of the band’s guitar players and lead singers. “We started talking about music and realized we were all into the same stuff. We figured we should start a band and give it a shot. That was seven years ago. We all speak a similar musical language and intuitively understand what each of us is trying to say, which is nice.”

The band includes Trey Flanigan, who also plays guitar and sings, drummer River van den Berghe and bass player Colin Burris. “Me and Trey come up with the skeletons of the songs and work out the guitar parts,” Freeland said. “Everybody else adds the stuff that puts the flesh on the bones and makes them come alive. We record ideas on my four-track tape machine or our phones. River and Trey get the arrangements mapped out and swap ideas—we should add something here, keep this, throw this out. We like to have the ideas as solid as possible, so we spend less time recording. It’s hard to pay for studio time. We all have various day jobs, so we all have to know what we’re doing when we go in to record.”

Freeland said the songs on Came Down Different, their third album, were finished a while ago, before the Covid lockdown. “We didn’t know how serious it was going to be,” he said. “I moved up to Canada with my girlfriend last year and made some demos with Franco, my friend from the band Dumb. I sent them to the rest of the band, and they sent me back their ideas, so we had a lot of the prep done. This was months before the pandemic happened, so it didn’t have an impact on the record.”

Came Down Different celebrates the joys of life in San Francisco, while detailing the ups and downs of playing in a band that faces the challenges of growing up in an uncertain political and economic climate. “The title refers to the tension you feel as you become an adult, and sums up the ethos of the record,” Freeland said. “We still talk about getting high and putting energy into having a good time, but when the good times are over, you look at things a little differently. We had a more somber approach this time. We wanted to be more pop and more aggressive, at the same time. The songs are humorous, with a lot of tongue-in-cheek lyrics, but we’re not trying to deliver jokes and punchlines, as we’ve done on previous records.”

The opening track of Came Down Different, “Donna Said,” sets the tone for the album. A few seconds of muffled feedback give way to the chiming twin guitars of Freeland and Flanigan and a mid tempo rhythm, as they describe the conflict between maintaining a relationship and playing all night in a band. “Bunny’s Taxi” tips its hat to images of San Francisco borrowed from Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movies. Brittle intertwining guitars and the rolling bass of Colin Burris provide an uplifting feel that contrasts with the song’s ominous message. “In this song, we’re examining the heroes you’re told to look up to as a kid,” Freeland said. “As you get older, you start realizing they’re pretty fucked up.” The blistering punk attack of “Spike” drives home the frustration of working a dead-end job, with a hint of ska in the guitar attack. The set closes with “Fuck You,” a blend of noise and laid back guitars that pays tribute to the band’s influences from Black Flag, to Dylan and Grass Widow.

With the record finally out, the band is hoping they’ll soon get back to playing live again. “We’ve toured a lot, but we’ve stuck close to the West Coast,” Freeland said. “Since I moved to Canada, we have had to slow down a bit. Covid has also restricted how much people can do. Right now, though, life seems to be getting back to normal, so I think we’ll be playing out a little more. We’re already working on mapping out ideas for our next release. We try to not do the same thing over and over. We want to evolve and have fun. In the end, it’s all about fun.”