Here we are, more than a year into the tumultuous Trump era, and we have not seen a revival of angry punk or righteous folk.
By Scott McLennan
It was fair to expect that an explosion of dark, angry music would have come on the heels of the contentious 2016 presidential election. After all, “Anti-Bush” practically became a subgenre of music in the early ’00s, and punk rock responded with fury to rising conservatism during the ‘70s. So a tsunami of Trump tirades was certainly in the musical forecast of late 2016.
But here we are more than a year into the tumultuous Trump era, and we have not seen a revival of angry punk or righteous folk.
We have, however, seen a lot of funky, musically sophisticated, relentlessly upbeat groups ascend, with Boston band Ripe right up at the top of the list of bands ready to bust into the big time.
Ripe’s two shows this week at the Paradise in Boston are already sold out. The band will then spend its spring on a coast-to-coast tour, returning to perform on home turf at the Levitate Festival in Marshfield, MA on July 7.
Ripe is releasing its debut full-length album amid this flurry of activity and has already teased what is to come with the single “Little Lighter,” a thumping and slinky slice of soul-ed out disco rock.
Ripe’s singer Robbie Wulfsohn argues that what his band and others like it are doing is exactly what needs to be happening during these turbulent political times. “When we are at a place of anger, darkness and fear, the way out is not with more of the same,” he explained during a recent interview.
Since forming in 2011, Ripe, he said, has strived to make happiness a “heavy emotion.”
“Happiness and joy are too often considered shallow emotions, or are simply meant to be there as distractions,” he explained. “Where we are coming from as a band is to make people feel better. And we’re gunning for a happiness that lasts longer than a concert. We want smiles that come from a deeper release.”
Besides Wulfsohn, guitarists Tory Geismar and Jon Becker, drummer Sampson Hellerman, bassist Nadav Shapira, trombone player Calvin Barthel, and trumpet player Josh Shpak make up Ripe. The group came together while all of its members were studying at Berklee College of Music.
Wulfsohn described the evolution of the group this way: “We started out as the guys who were at your party, then became the guys playing music at your party, then being the band at the parties, and then becoming the band you could hire for parties.”
The band members boast a variety of musical influences, striving to put them together with the aim of creating a balance of the catchy and the exploratory. Wulfsohn said that his goal was to make Ripe’s music as appealing to a fan of Ornette Coleman as it is to a fan of James Blake.
Ripe built a following with its high-energy live shows, doing a mixture of headlining club dates and opening sets for bigger acts. It has released a few EPs and singles, cutting a live session for AudioTree, which included such songs as “Goon Squad,” “Talk to the Moon,” and “On My Mind.” Yes, the band’s big and frenetic sound defaults to the upbeat, but its music is too smart and well-crafted to be dismissed as lightweight pop — this is pop with some serious chops.
Not only does Ripe have a healthy appreciation for songs ranging from the classic to the experimental, it also embraces the good ol’ fashion notion that music is something to cherish and well worth getting excited about. So rather than just give away its new album, or flood the internet with a glut of catchy free tracks, the band has decided to be judicious about what it puts out; the group is managing the release of its new album with a bit of flair and showmanship.
That strategy fits in with its approach to win over fans with its live shows, getting people to join the party and enjoy the Ripe ‘experience’ before they have a chance to form an opinion about what the band is about given a listen to one or two songs they have downloaded or streamed. Ripe’s trumpet player Shpak advised, “Don’t come in with preconceived notions.”
And it seems more and more people are indeed checking out Ripe. The sold-out shows Friday and Saturday at The Paradise follow a headlining appearance at the esteemed Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y. All of this buzz is pretty much out of the ordinary for a band that’s not affiliated with a record label or big management company.
But going it alone doesn’t mean Ripe is cutting corners. The new album, for instance, is produced by Cory Wong, a fierce guitar player whose work with Vulfpeck and others has helped establish the new-funk revival that is embracing Ripe.
“This is the year,” Shpak said. “We definitely want everyone to know who we are.”
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.