Time as a band breeds experience, yielding commitment to a cause and cementing a career path. This is something Plague Vendor has learned. The foursome, who emerged from a practice space in Whittier, CA in 2009, started by playing endless live shows around Southern California, filling everywhere from backyard parties to clubs to festivals with their raucous, formidable music. At the heart of every show, no matter the venue, was sincere energy and spirit, always resulting in a snarling, frenetic performance. The shows stacked up, accumulating every year, and eventually birthed Plague Vendor’s 2014 debut album Free To Eat, a dark, thrashing collection that clocked in at less than twenty minutes.
But the album, brash and aptly terse, was just an appetizer to the main course. The band’s sophomore effort, Bloodsweat, vastly expands on the sonic territory explored in their debut. Recorded over the course of two weeks in April of 2015 with producer and engineer Stuart Sikes (The Walkmen, Cat Power, Modest Mouse), the album takes a natural approach to Plague Vendor’s music. The musicians aimed to capture each track in as few takes as possible, avoiding many overdubs and embracing the same minimal production they bring to their live performances. Nearly all of the eleven songs on Bloodsweat were heavily road-tested, imagined and re-imagined live before ever making it into the studio.
From opening number “Anchor To Ankles” to closer “Got It Bad,” Bloodsweat reveals a purposeful narrative arc, taking the listener through songs that veer rapidly from aggressive thrash to melodic introspection. Together, the songs recount the last few years of the musicians’ lives, revealing the sacrifices they’ve made and the dedication they’ve embraced to become the band they’ve become. “Jezebel,” the disc’s flagship single, exemplifies the style Plague Vendor has dubbed “voodoo punk” a dance-fueled rock aesthetic tinged with shadowy darkness. The band’s influences, which range from At the Drive-In to Liars to The Cramps, are apparent but not overly obvious throughout.
Plague Vendor’s live show has shifted as they’ve developed these new songs, too. They’ve swapped out shock value for raw vulnerability onstage and the four musicians aim to create the most sound and the most intensity with the least possible utility and equipment. Palpable tension comes from the sense that anything could happen, but mostly Plague Vendor is interested in simplicity and the sort of expressive nakedness that can come from stripping everything away. It’s clear the band has sacrificed their formative don’t-give-a-fuck punk attitude for sincerity and gratitude, acknowledging the fans who’ve helped them arrive here now.
Bloodsweat invokes its own name as it unfurls, its songs edged with a sense of danger and vulnerability. It’s the product of a band who have traveled far and whose travels have committed them even further to themselves. As you hear it, as its songs surge outward, it announces: This is who Plague Vendor is now.