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PUJOL’s Kisses Rejects Cynicism in Favor of Punk Intellect

The Nashville-based avant-garage artist Daniel Pujol has a new EP coming out next month titled Kisses, but on a day off from his tour with fellow Southern punks Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, the guitarist and vocalist would rather talk about the recent Republican presidential primary debates.

“What I think that primary debate showed was that there is more of a media literacy than an actual literacy,” he says. “From the most anarcho-punk on the planet to some billionaire with a combover, what both sides are communicating to me is that, as a culture, we understand subtlety, we understand context, we can communicate logic and implication and value through what color tie a guy is wearing.”

At the risk of speaking for him, Pujol’s point is this: While some may be quick to dismiss the rhetorical simplicity used by politicians, those methods of communication are rich in meaning and utility. Critiquing and deconstructing the charade of dumbed-down partisan politics is a useless enterprise. How can we harness those communicative techniques for non-manipulative purposes?

“At what point do we start affirming?” Pujol asks. “I think [cynicism is] a fashionable perspective that launders the inherent disappointment of living in a dysfunctional culture… that finds that perspective fashionable. It’s circular.”

If this take on contemporary culture sounds slightly headier than what’s coming from your average punk band, that’s because Pujol won’t stand for patronizing his audience. “I don’t think people are stupid. I think they’re as smart as they are allowed to be,” he says. Rather than ascribing to a consumptive model where a passive audience “buys in,” Pujol prefers meeting the audience on its own terms, to engage in a meaningful transaction.

Recorded by Pujol in his basement and mixed by Athens engineer Drew Vandenberg at Chase Park Transduction, Kisses is both consistent with and a departure from Pujol’s previous offering, Kludge, released last year via Saddle Creek. Thundering drums and searing guitars keep the group’s sound grounded in the rock canon, but there’s almost always a lofty meditation on culture combined with those cleverly written choruses. Pujol is known for packaging insight into his sing-alongs, and Kisses is certainly no exception. Yet Kisses also features instances of Pujol’s poetry accompanied by tape-speed tweaking, a disorienting tactic that may require a set of headphones and a great deal of time to properly digest.

The choice to include a spoken-word element shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who follows Pujol’s output closely; he regularly recites poetry in live settings, and he recently published with Third Man Books, an offshoot of Jack White’s Third Man Records imprint.

Should poetry mocked up with swirling, stuttering guitars throw listeners off guard, so be it. The cross-pollination of forms is part and parcel of Pujol’s overall project, the idea that one’s politics and ethics are exposed by one’s art. “You ascribe to a certain set of cultural or institutional values by the way you tell a story,” says Pujol.

Kisses isn’t just a meta-discourse on art and rock music. If there is one, the record’s thesis may be that cynicism and irony must be replaced by the affirmation of human potential, regardless of our dystopian media landscape. “We live in a time now where being kind is subversive. Taking time for another person is subversive,” says Pujol.

As artistically and politically challenging as Kisses may be, Pujol seems content with the direction of his work. “I don’t want to have to expect to be disappointed and surrounded by dysfunction the rest of my life,” he says. “I don’t want to be treated as if I am naive or ignorant because I am happy or excited about something.”

WHO: PUJOL, Richard Gumby
WHERE: Caledonia Lounge
WHEN: Monday, Oct. 26, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5 (21+), $7 (18–20)