Personality Cult
Drunken Sailor Records

Ben Carr doesn’t sit still for long. Over the past decade, the frontman and songwriter has led three bands, each with a distinct angle on garage rock and punk, each of which has thrived on sharp hooks and frenetic brevity.

Initially pegged as something of a garage-rock wunderkind, fronting the precocious trio Last Year’s Men under tutelage from garage veterans like Spider Bags’ Dan McGee and Reigning Sound’s Greg Cartwright, Carr shifted gears with his next project. Even as the core trio of Carr, Ian Rose, and Geoff Schilling remained intact, their sound shifted wildly: as Last Year’s Men, they slung soul-inflected rock ‘n’ roll nuggets before turning to sinewy and sinister synth-punk as Natural Causes. And now, with his first solo outing as Personality Cult, Carr makes another stylistic shift, toward the manic punk-pop of acts like The Buzzcocks and Marked Men.

Still, as is quickly evidenced by Personality Cult’s self-titled debut, Carr’s knack for quick hooks and bouncing rhythmic lunges is fully intact. The hook-centric approach Carr takes here also masks the self-flagellating confessions that mark many of the albums’ tracks. Through the course of ten songs and less than a half-hour, Carr claims, “I’m a heart attack waiting to happen,” and “I’m doing worse, each second worse than the first.” On “Hot Head,” he elaborates a bit. “Just when I thought that I had figured out my plan/I messed it up again/With my hot head.”

But despite the lyrical self-deprecation, Carr’s songs are tightly-wound bursts of pure pop excitement. “Doing Worse” rides a power chord riff like Ty Segall used to do, and “Fashionably Late” takes a wiry detour, suggesting the off-kilter post-punk of early Whatever Brains. But for the most part, Carr finds a comfortable space in staccato rhythms, punchy bass lines, and crisp guitars that land closer to the irrepressible catchiness of cult-favorites like Red Dons or any of Mark Ryan’s many different guises.

And even within that template, Carr finds plenty of space to vary his approach. Compare “Functioning Fine,” with its spiky riff, mechanical, Devo-tinged rhythmic patterns, and no-wave sax blast, to the power-pop burst of “Brazen,” which feels melodically fluid and dynamically explosive after the former song’s herky-jerky post-punk.

With Personality Cult, Carr has found a home for his abundant ideas, marrying the finesse of Last Year’s Men with the impulsive punk of Natural Causes, while branching out into further corners of an increasingly expansive garage-rock foundation.