Darren Ollinger, frontman of incendiary punk band Julius Sumner Miller, feels the heat. In the first verse of “Leave The Key,” their latest single, he imagines setting himself on fire. “A whole world of tears,” he barks, “could not douse out these flames.” In keeping with the sentiment of his rapid-fire lyrics, Ollinger sings like the heat is nipping at his heels, howling and raging, perpetually ready to combust. He’s a human flamethrower — and he’s backed by a ferocious group that pushes every signal into the red.
Julius Sumner Miller sustains that intensity for the balance of Try It Out, a full-length set that’s pugnacious, unsparing, outspoken, and loaded with gleaming hooks. It’s the band’s fourth album and the capstone of a deep catalog that has established the band as Calgary’s most reliable source of bracing punk rock songs. All five members of Julius Sumner Miller are immersed in the Calgary musical subculture — they’re show bookers, punk promoters, and tireless advocates of off-the-wall and idiosyncratic local sounds. Whenever they plug in and play, they put those values into practice in the most entertaining way possible.
It’s no surprise “Leave The Key” and the rest of Try It Out sound rough and raw in a wonderfully menacing way — reminiscent of basement and garage-punk classics while never being too imitative of any of them — and there’s a very good reason for that. The band cut the album in a single four-day burst of explosive energy in world renowned OCL Studios and then had legendary punk rocker Stephen Egerton of the Descendents and ALL master the album. The result will sound refreshingly familiar to all those who follow the punk rock flag. But don’t call it a throwback. Ollinger’s lyrics and irreverent perspective alone are enough to keep the songs fresh.
The group’s namesake, on the other hand, definitely belongs to the broadcast past. Julius Sumner Miller was a TV scientist — think Bill Nye, but zanier — who was well known for practical demonstrations of eye-catching physical phenomena. Ollinger does Miller one better in the clip for “Leave The Key.” As he performs, the punk rock singer is actually on fire. No trickery here: the front man does a full body burn for almost 30 seconds with help from Academy Award Nominee, Guinness World Record Breaking, Fire Stunt Specialist, Colin Decker… adding legit fuel (and flames) to this fiery track. The whole group plays with such intensity and commitment that the air around them feels charged. A single stray spark could make the whole febrile scene go up in smoke.