Tyvek: Overground

In the seven years since Tyvek’s last album, the Detroit punks went digging through their archive. They reissued a rare 2009 cassette and put out a live album where they dusted off and ripped through some of their earliest songs. Among those deep cuts was 2007’s “Future Junk,” an evergreen gem where Kevin Boyer screams about the daily grind of driving up and down the John C. Lodge Freeway. Tyvek return to the Lodge on “M-39,” a standout banger from their wild fifth album, Overground. Over a cascading and crunchy guitar riff, amid a blanket of unrelenting cymbal smashes, Boyer’s trademark blunt and unflashy vocal performance helps transform the freeway into a psychedelic colony chiseled into cement. He twists the same handful of words into knots so that when he eventually utters the phrase “writ large on the Lodge,” it lands like a punchline.

Boyer offers landmarks and clues, but otherwise his imagery feels like a puzzle with half the pieces sucked up into the vacuum. The guitar sound is choppy and rigid as ever, and there’s a relentlessness to the sequencing that’s been there for the last two or three Tyvek albums. Each song spills rapidly into the next, and rarely does the band ease up. “Return to Format” and “Rhythm / Pattern” are ramshackle as Boyer spits his words percussively while the band careens behind him. There’s a moment on “Going Through My Things” when he appears to suddenly recite the tag of an old shirt: “LOW tumble dry, LOW tumble dry, LOW,” he shouts in the approximate rhythm of a dryer’s spinning drum. Tyvek excel at this strange balance between grid-like rigidity and the sense that everything could fall apart at any moment.

While Tyvek have always been a revolving door of contributors (Boyer notwithstanding), the current incarnation has been steady for a few years now. It’s palpable just how much they’ve locked in with each other. Boyer and Shelley Salant are both on guitar, and many songs reward a close listen for their intertwining, jam-forward leads. The rhythm section is strong, which is expected for two Southeast Michigan DIY scene bosses in their own right, bassist Alex Glendening (Deadbeat Beat) and drummer Fred Thomas (too many bands to list). The most obvious new ingredient is Emily Roll, Salant’s bandmate in the art-punk trio XV. Their saxophone folds in effortlessly, never dominating with an overwhelming skronk or longform voyage. Roll mirrors the pointed and staccato nature of the guitars—a blurt here, a couple supplemental notes there. It’s a new texture and a lightly sour contrast to the main hook. Right in step with Boyer’s songwriting, it’s the most exciting kind of disorienting.

Those are welcome variations on Tyvek’s template, but the final song slows down into unprecedented territory. The band spread out across the seven-minute title track while Boyer offers a subdued spoken-word poem that shares DNA with “The Gift.” Roll’s saxophone adds echoing, ambient jazz atmosphere and the rest of the instruments meander gently. Meanwhile, Boyer half-mutters about his grim surroundings: “How did we get here and more importantly how do we get out?” Those are two of many questions on Overground, though for the most part, Boyer’s interrogations go hand-in-hand with the band’s driving, scattered punk intensity. He cringes at the past in “What Were We Thinking” and prods the tenets of capitalism on “What’s It For” as the band rips through its tried and true attack. When Boyer stops lingering on tense questions and starts wondering about a way out, their collective toil completely melts in favor of something simple and beautiful.