Justice Tripp probably gets a good laugh whenever he’s included in the “next Turnstile?” dialogue—in a lot of ways, Angel Du$t was supposed to be the first one. When Turnstile’s 2015 album Nonstop Feeling was still a twinkle in the eye of Baltimore hardcore, the Trapped Under Ice frontman was already imagining a future where the Lemonheads and acoustic guitars were every bit as welcome as Bad Brains and blast beats. But while Tripp has shared band members and bills with Turnstile, Angel Du$t albums lack their brethren’s ambitions to define hardcore’s worldwide agenda, preferring to remain a loose collective that can pop in and out at will to contribute to the conversation. And in their latest incarnation, Angel Du$t convince their friends from Toledo, New York and Seattle that their Brand New Soul lies in sunny Southern California.
Encompassing Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego in equal measure, Brand New Soul is every bit as SoCal in sound as it is in spirit; “Love Slam” is the title of one song, but it’s really the M.O. for the entire album collectively. Or really, just about everything Angel Du$t has done up to this point, including the similarly self-explanatory Rock the Fuck on Forever, Pretty Buff and YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs, that all expressions of camaraderie for one’s fellow man should be as affirming as they are aggressive.
Does Tripp truly believe that “ain’t no flame burn like my fiyah?” Or is writing a fake Chili Peppers rap-rock hook even more fun to do in the studio than it is on Twitter? Challenging hardcore audiences to circle pit to an acoustic guitar? Also a blast. Mocking naysayers with doo-wop basso vocals? Hell yeah. Retconning Wavves’ King of the Beach as a progressive punk classic? That was basically the template for an Angel Du$t/Panda Bear collab and “I’m Not Ready” cuts out the middleman this time around. Whether or not Rob Schnapf had a tangible impact in the mixing process is immaterial; his mere presence places Brand New Soul in a proud lineage of punk bands who decamped to Sunset Sounds because they had a chance to work with the guy who wrangled all of those harpsichords and horns on Elliott Smith’s XO.
Yet, the uplift mofo party plan of Brand New Soul is occasionally at odds with Tripp’s bluster, at least on the title track and “Racecar,” when it sounds like he’s still addressing the scene puritans who shunned Angel Du$t a decade ago. You can take him at his word when he says that Angel Du$t was even more divisive than the Trapped Under Ice album produced by a guy from New Found Glory. But for a band that touts its progressive approach to hardcore as a primary draw (and, often, subject matter), Angel Du$t seem hemmed in at this point—not as distinct as the bands who’ve honed in on a singular sound, more conventional than the ones who’ve ventured far beyond the requisite Weezer and power-pop influences. “Born 2 Run” is an impressive accomplishment in its own right, making fine use of Mary Jane Dunphe’s harmonies, squiggly Captured Tracks guitars, and Tripp’s most impassioned lyrics. It would be inconceivable in Baltimore even five years ago. In 2023, it might trick a new listener into thinking that Angel Du$t formed immediately after hearing Turnstile’s Glow On. Such is the mixed blessing of Brand New Soul as Angel Du$t’s culminating achievement—a record that only sounds conventional due to their own massive influence.