After too long a wait, Paranoid Social Club is back with its most consistent, focused record yet. “Axis IV” busts out of the gate with three cracklers, brimming with confidence and fluent in many rock dialects, Foo Fighters bullheadedness and island skate pop swimming in the same soup.

“Count on Me” is an effortless anthem, expertly crafted pop atop Tony McNaboe’s breakout kit work, and one of the best chorus releases this year. “Paranoid” follows, dressing up a Black Sabbath cover with big Black Keys riffs and newly diseased goth rags. Sounds like these guys have done this before. “Stick Up Kid” is a great lyrical play, as you will surely have your hands in the air with a dirty, dirty snare riff and impish blues piano.

It helps that a) Dave Gutter’s got one of the most versatile, likable rock voices in the game, and b) he applies it with ambition all over “Axis IV.” Check out the spacey troubler “Suicide,” a Rustic Overtones reinvention in which Gutter now muses all sweet and falsetto-like inside a Maroon 5 terror show. The lyrical content may drive away the thin-skinned, but that’s part of why it works — it’s just this side of sanity.

“Flower Child” wildly oscillates between dizzying dirge and sun-soaked floater. Truth is, Paranoid Social Club can write and record the ever-livin’ pants off of a song, which is why these verses and choruses offer such potent point-counterpoint.

So how do you close an album that oozes know-how? Self-deprecation, of course; here in the form of drunken doo-wop. “Our Band Sucks” poses as a throwaway, but makes room for a couple of angsty roars and endearing tales of a failing band. A tune like this shows that the veterans in PSC know to keep the been-there, done-that swagger in check.

No matter how many shows you’ve played, your fans will always only love you for the hunger.

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.


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