Name: Pollen Rx
From: Austin, TX
Members: Ben Hirsch (guitar, vocals), Maud Morgan (bass, vocals), Andy Palmer (drums)
Genre: Garage, Melodic Art-Punk
RIYL: X, Modern Lovers, WIRE
“Despite its obvious ridiculousness, we are all ‘partners’ and ‘sandwich artists’ and ‘team members’ – even as we are unpaid interns,” observes Austin garage punk trio Pollen Rx’s (formerly Pollen) frontman and guitar player Ben Hirsch, describing one of the central themes of the band’s second EP, Buyer’s, out March 10th on cassette and digital formats. The 5-song EP, recorded to 2-inch tape and mixed by Matt Simon (of Voxtrot, Tele Novella) at Eastern Sun Studios and mastered by Matthew Melton (of Warm Soda) at Fuzz City Records, follows in the footsteps of June 2014’s debut Pollen EP, with a more sharply focused examination of their experience of life in 2015 America.
Pollen Rx – Ben Hirsch (guitar, vocals), Maud Morgan (bass, vocals), Andy Palmer (drums) – played their first show in August 2013 at Trailer Space Records, and spent their first few months opening for some of Austin’s best almost-punk bands (BLXPLTN, Big Bill, Those Howlings). The trio ripped through sets at five unofficial showcases in five days at SXSW last March, in venues that included a cramped sex shop, a garage, a backyard, a coffee shop and a living room, before entering the studio with Matt Simon. Pollen Rx’s debut, tracked over a course of hours and recorded live off the floor onto 2-inch tape, was released in June and drew attention from Death + Taxes, Styrofoam Drone, With Guitars and Boston’s Music Box Pete, as well Austin music outlets OVRLD and Austin Town Hall, in addition to making Side One Track One’s year-end list and earning Pollen Rx the honor of being June’s Austin band of the month in The Deli Magazine.
The debut EP revealed a band asking hard questions and deconstructing their inherited socio-cultural environment, with tracks that examined flawed public education (which Hirsch sees firsthand as an advocate for at-risk youth in public school disciplinary hearings), issues of surveillance and gun control, and an examination of the finance sector. The follow-up release Buyer’s carries these questions forward with more of a cohesive statement, attempting to question but not condemn our current mode of consumerism: purchasing, advertising, production, packaging and moving goods, examining the “creative economy,” “green washing” and global supply networks. They live inside what they criticize, struggling to decipher their options.
Opener “Supply Chain” inspects what lubricates international logistics and the covert disruption that this movement of goods necessitates: USA military power all over the world and mass mineral extraction. “Brand Loyalty” explores the type of feelings we are all supposed to have about our labor and our tangential connection to a corporate identity, even as our labor is increasingly being devalued. “Packaging” roots through the stories we tell ourselves and are told about food – our Quinoa and Accai berries – and how we can never really tell anything about the life story of the things we buy and rely on. “J-5” examines being arrested and navigating the legal system as a privileged person – the song is a reminder of the role law enforcement and privilege have in maintaining the arrangement described throughout the EP. Closing track “Offices Empty” parses out how the politics in the USA are so stable that no one with resources is really worried at all about change.
Pollen Rx’s sound evolves with their second release – extra layers enable the trio to get a more vivid contrast between their pop sweetness and the frustration that matches the content of the songs. What remains from the debut are Hirsch’s angular and rhythmic guitar playing, almost completely dry and only distorted by the age of the Garnet tube amp (all of Pollen Rx’s amps have been built or refurbished by drummer Palmer), Morgan’s smokey ornamented alto that cracks with precision, highlighting the songs’ most dramatic moments, and Hirsch’s vocals, energetic and emotive, providing an engaging interplay of impassioned yelps and raspy backroom crooning, and occasionally joining into off-kilter harmonies.
Pollen Rx isn’t attempting to track solutions with the EP. Buyer’s is an examination of the reality that they observe and their struggle to work through their place in it: their complicity and their power to question and dissent. In the final track, they take solace in knowing that, at the very least, we can grow a garden and carve out a little space of our own, free from the bombardment, where we can do some good things and feel fine about them.
[‘Apartment’ has] an absurdly catchy chorus bookended by gritty verses, and the video’s got the same perfect combination of creepy (dark lighting, claustrophobic and dizzying camera-work) and playful (dancing in your underwear, living the twenty-something bohemian life) that the track embodies…It’s the perfect track if you’ve found yourself lately a bit like me right now: lying in bed in your underwear in a new apartment, listening to music, waiting for summer to ‘start.’ – Dan Turkel, Death + Taxes
Pollen use that approachable lens of ’60s garage and early punk as a hook to explore much deeper and very real modern issues…Riveting stuff, and through this lens, the songs end up being weirdly fun as hell while remaining cogent in their messaging. – Bryne Yancey, The Runout
Built around boy/girl vocals and a constant guitar shimmer. Crunchy guitars come backed by sunny vocal harmonies and throbbing bass in “Not a Test,” which starts the EP with an invigorating pop punch…“Short Selling” comes with a bouncy post-punk flare, sounding tight and wonky with plenty of shouting…“Apartment”…weaves angular guitars and bass into one stressful twang. The fluttering chorus is driven by Morgan’s breathy vocals, followed by rumbling bass lines and dusty guitars. – Zac Camagna, Styrofoam Drone
…smartly political post-punk party jams are as lyrically dense as a college sociology textbook but danceable enough to make the Au Pairs proud…Pollen RX are deft about communicating their politics, never letting their message overwhelm the playful likability of the music nor shying away from the devastating truths they’re so gleefully unpacking. – Mariana Timony, Lo-Pie
Pollen Rx is one of our favorite new discoveries. They’re a garage pop/art punk trio from Austin, TX who specialize in politically-driven, danceable music, with gritty guitars and catchy melodies. They describe their new EP Buyer’s as “a work dedicated to the frustration and deliciousness of consumer society.” Sounds about right to us. Humorous, upfront, and concise, Pollen Rx’s Buyer’s cassette is an exposition about our modern capitalistic state, delivered with a sly wit and satire that make for some quirky musical juxtapositions. – Itoro Udoko, Unruly Factions
Packing jangly guitars and off-kilter girl group harmonies, Pollen sound a lot larger than their trio status would lead you to believe. “Not a Test” is more crammed than anything the Futureheads ever released, but that works to Pollen’s favor, granting the track an anxiousness that makes its less-than-three-minute run time as action packed and tense as a crime spree. This is the kind of throwback that’s easy to get behind, more than sum of its referential parts and infectiously fun. – Nick Hanover, OVRLD
On the surface, Pollen has created five songs of rock n roll with elements of punk and garage. Their style can pull from influences such as Metric, Franz Ferdinand, Priests and “Insomniac” era Green Day. To put it bluntly: this is a high energy piece of music that will make you want to get up and bop…Though Buyer’s is an EP that hits fast and hard, as if in a single shot, the message within the song resonates and hopefully will be taken into the minds of many as we move forward in time and hope to progress. – Raised By Gypsies
Eagle-eyed readers of WithGuitars will have a good enough handle on Pollen, but in case you missed the boat, here is a reminder: If only for their self titled EP, everytime, the release graced the WG office’s playlist with many a knowing smile. – With Guitars
Torn between eschewing the new and improved item du jour and raising a joyous riot in the aisles, Pollen leaves the choice up to you, the consumer. – Bucket Full of Nails
Considering that Pollen essentially just came into existence, Maud Morgan, Ben Hirsch, and Andy Palmer certainly sound comfortable together. It’s impressive. What’s also to love is this track, which is a catchy garage rock tune that feels favorably lifted out of the 90s. – John Laird, Side One Track One
Full of heavy sounding tunes with a slight punk and indie tone to them, the band also try to highlight social issues with their well-crafted lyrics. With plenty of distorted sounding guitars and vocals, they manage to convey a feeling of living in the modern world with their music. – Rock & Roll Creations
…a spiky two and a half minutes of angular garage rock built on twin vocals and a strong bassline that wanders through the track, hooking catchy riffs and organ squalls en route. – Record Rewind Play
I love the crunchy sound of the guitar and the riding of the cymbals by the drummer, but it’s the erratic vocal delivery that really sells me on the group. – Nathan Lankford, Austin Town Hall
“Not A Test” is a fun, bombastic track that builds the bridge between [dance and punk]…to create something truly special and dynamic. – Music Box Pete
Youthful and full of urgency, the four song, self-titled EP draws heavily on the influence of proto-punk avant-gardists like The Feelies as much the next generation of indie vanguardists a la Yo La Tengo. In that tradition, Pollen achieves an impressive blend of humor, rhythm and brevity, pop sensibility and dissonance. – The Deli Magazine
Poppy melodies and political lyrics gives them the edge to stand out from similar bands and they make perfect driving music. – Through the Wire Music