New Music: Puzzled ‘Okay, fine’ LP

Oakland’s Puzzled released their latest garage pop record ‘Okay, fine’ on April 9th. 

Two-thirds of Puzzled is composed of current members from some of East Bay’s noisiest ensembles—Mike Morales from Baus and Elyse Schrock from The World. They join Stephen Taylor, who before Puzzled, was the main songwriter of PRCSRS, and he’s also currently playing drums in Yogurt Brain. Although the record flows with thoughtful, whimsical lyrics and lo-fi melodies, the record opens up at times for frantic punk guitar riffs and thrashing percussion that reminds us that their noise rock identities are still very much in tact. 

“The year was 2012. The world had refused to end,” says Puzzled about the time the time they all met at a show that both Baus and PRCSRS were playing. Stephen confessed he had a crush on Elyse, and Mike infuriated Stephen for trying to get in on the conversation. Days later, Elyse and Stephen set plans in motion to start making music together and knew they wanted the “ultimate groove master,” Mike, to play bass on their team with Elyse on drums and Stephen on guitar.

Their last record was released in 2014 and in wondering why Okay, fine was released this spring, the band tells me that the “record deals a lot with loss and sifting through what’s left in and around you to find a little hope, but in the self-deprecating style of Puzzled. It would not have been sincere if it came out earlier, maybe forced. 2014 was a very, very difficult year for many reasons. We all had some sort of hardship or tragedy to work on and get over, and it all really shaped the new record. The name ‘okay, fine’ was literally what we said repeatedly as some sort of bummed out mantra up until the album’s release.”

As I listen to “Fading Away,” where Elyse sings everyday is all the same, it makes me think of the in-between emotional phase we realistically spend most of our time in and how our days blend in with each other. I like that Puzzled is okay with acknowledging the mundanity that characterizes most of our daily lives. It’s a difficult and subtle idea to encapsulate, which they do so naturally and somewhat cheerfully.

In addition, we get to hear all three voices throughout the record. “Generally who ever wrote the song, sings it–which is great because we are basically a band of lead singers,” says Puzzled, but you’ll find that they also like to sing in unison or layer over one another. In terms of sound, the mellowed out garage pop element arose from a night of hanging out where they discovered a shared interest in taking on the challenge of writing pop music, despite the noisy, post-punk outfits they all started out from. 

“We all had some sort of hardship or tragedy to work on and get over, and it all really shaped the new record.”

What I found initially striking, was the range of topics covered lyrically throughout the record. You could easily forget the heaviness of what’s being crooned and wailed by the trifecta in the upbeat, catchy structure that forms the record. From the perfectly portrayed heartache found in “Bobby Pins,” feelings of loss in “Fading Away,” and through the silliness and sweetness of “Dank Squid,” you get a fun and creative variety of tracks. Their songwriting abilities are instinctive; they’re moody over-thinkers when they need to be and warmly carefree when they want to be.

Catch Puzzled at Hemlock Tavern June 2nd with Babewatch and LA’s Peach Kelli Pop. Stay tuned for more details on a late summer west coast tour.