Personnel: Jamie Kilstein (vocals, guitar); Kevin Salem (vocals, guitar, banjo, keyboards); Nick Phaneuf (guitar); Jane Scarpantoni (cello); Joe Magistro (drums).
Audio Mixer: Kevin Salem.
Recording information: Applehead Recording; The Distortion Tank.
If what you want most in a punk band is an exceptional ranter at the vocal mike, then Jamie Kilstein & the Agenda may well be your new favorite act. Jamie Kilstein has spent years establishing himself as a standup comic and spoken word artist, and he's put those skills to excellent use on A Bit Much, his first album with his band the Agenda. While Kilstein is a solid guitar player and the tunes he's written work well, the real reason for this band to exist is for Kilstein to bark and howl his lyrics about the many things that fill him with rage: homophobia, male privilege, sexism, economic injustice, the NRA, racism, irresponsible parents, and much more. (Fair warning: Kilstein is an unapologetic leftist activist, so political conservatives should steer clear of this album, unless they're eager to have their views challenged.) Right out of the gate, Kilstein and his accompanists tear into the buzzy punkish groove of "Fuck the NRA," where the waves of guitar and drums set the scene as Kilstein unleashes a torrent of articulate venom about gun ownership in America, complete with lots of F-bombs. (Second fair warning: if cursing bothers you, you really should not buy this album.) Kilstein offers up a few proper songs on A Bit Much, but most of the album finds Kilstein energetically declaiming while the music adds weight and emphasis to his words, and the best moments are decidedly more powerful than Kilstein's spoken word recordings. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Salem has struck a careful balance between the music and Kilstein's monologues, and the relatively apolitical "Nerd Love" shows Kilstein could play to a nonpartisan crowd if he wanted, though it's pretty clear he doesn't. A Bit Much is a splendid example of how to mix comedy and rock & roll, though ultimately this is more about Jamie and his comedy routines than the music that sets them off. ~ Mark Deming