On Pure Disgust, Popper Burns Make Music for a Graveyard Rave

by Nick Hanover

Popper Burns Pure Disgust

If Popper Burns’ eponymous debut was about unfiltered libidinous expression, its follow-up is about the guilt and shame revealed in the harsh afterglow. It is, after all, right there in that title: Pure Disgust, as fitting a title as you’re likely to get from a band. But what makes Pure Disgust so much more fascinating than even that description suggests is its aura of morbid anxiety, set off by things as benign as grocery lines and tan lines and as terrifying as our “country of insolence” and deep ocean Lovecraftian horrors. In Pure Disgust, the world really will come to an end if you act on your urges.

The question is, well, is it any fucking fun to listen to? Surprisingly, yes. Pure Disgust is a band at the height of their powers, indulging in a mastery of aesthetic that is enviable and exquisite. The mood may be gloomy and menacing but like a brutal horror film witnessed at too early an age, it makes you deeply aware of the thrill of being terrified, of having ample reason to fear the dark.

Popper Burns seem particularly aware of this on the aptly named “Night Terrors,” where the rhythm section of Chase Jackson and Lauren Hemphill try to keep their bandmates from straying off the path and into the darkness. But Jake Lauterstein’s guitar responds to some demon’s siren call with shrieks of its own, and as Louie Fontenot’s vocals carry on, they only get more unhinged until it’s no longer clear whether the night is terrorizing Popper Burns or Popper Burns is terrorizing the night.

Later, Fontenot will claim “I always fuck better with the lights on,” but that feels like a trick because Popper Burns is unquestionably nocturnal. Even outside the night’s terrors, they’re drawn to its people. In the intoxicated twists and turns of “Apollo 11,” that means a bar full of oddballs and potential predators, whose strange habits and sloppy visages appear to both turn on and repulse Fontenot while the instrumentation revs up in preparation for an all out brawl. On “Morse Code,” Fontenot menacingly claims to be a “transdermal engineer,” warning prey that “darkness is coming,” though it seems pretty clear from the cavernous beat and Lynchian guitar that darkness has been here from the start.

Even in the moments where Popper Burns most lean into their original “B-52s gone murderous” style, the darkness looms, such as on the pogoing kitsch of “Sometimes,” where Fontenot’s frenzied claim to want to kiss someone sounds like it comes with the caveat that doing so would mean death or worse for the recipient. That push and pull between desire and self-loathing is fully explicit in “Sun Tan,” with Fontenot’s shouts of “I hate myself” and regret over attaining “things we wish we never had” coming in between a simultaneous disgust and envy of people who thrive in the light of day. But the punchline comes in the ellipsis after “The sun is burning,” paying off in the smirked delivery of its conclusion that it’s burning…out.

Call Pure Disgust music for a graveyard rave. Call it a party playlist for the mole people. Call it a soundtrack for a stabbing. What it is is a testament to the allure of our own panic, our primal death urges given voice and rhythm, made danceable and irresistible, worming away at your brain more effectively than any squirming parasite ever could.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover