Bread and Circuits had to be one of the smartest, most articulate, and most political punk bands of the 1990s. The band’s name alone hints at what awaits when you drop needle to record. It’s a play on the satirical but all too biting criticism Roman writer Juvenal penned about the people of Rome almost two thousand years ago:
Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have
abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out
military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself
and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.
Bread and circuses to placate the masses. Bread to fill their bellies, and circuses to provide mindless entertainment and a way to check out. Bread and Circuits just updated that a little bit for our age of digital distractions.
Pick your poison,
Division or diversion,
We’re given Bread and Circuits
for a purpose – to keep us tranquilized.
— “Bread and Circuits”
They don’t stop there, though. The band includes a 20 page, full-color booklet with the record that includes lyrics to all the songs as well as quotes that back up their positions, and a roughly page long manifesto at the end. I mean, they have a song called “Bretton Woods” about the meeting of the same name by the Allied powers in 1944 to discuss the future of the post-World War II global economy that gave us, among other things, the highly controversial International Monetary Fund. There is also “Letter from Chase,” which includes a Chase Bank logo on the booklet page, and “The End of History.” This guys (and gal – singer Mike Kirsch came out as being a transgender woman and changed her name to Sarah Kirsch shortly before her death in 2012) are highly politicized and very passionate about their world view.
Not so far away
a war is waged
and sadly to say
the devils may never own me,
but they sometimes pay the rent.
— “The End of History”
Look. I like punk rock. And I respect the fact that so many punk artists over the years have used their music in part as a way to communicate about their perceptions regarding our society’s political, social, and economic ills. But that’s not really why I like it – to me it’s about the pace, the sound, the edge. So sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to a band that is so overtly political. I respect what they’re doing completely. But I’m a pretty non-political guy. I hate politics. But I do think that if you’re going to have an organization of people that numbers more than a small handful (a company, a town, a city, a country…), at some point someone has to be at least nominally “in charge”. And history has shown us that whenever someone is in charge, whether it be a democratically elected leader, a dictator, or a CEO, politics is simply a reality. Many a commune’s utopian dream collapsed as people started breaking off into factions and forming alliances. Hell, just watch early episodes of Survivor.
Bread and Circuits is an OK punk album musically, though to me there doesn’t seem to be much unique or different going on in the sound. The power and impact here are in the lyrics and the political message, though to be honest they’re screamed in such a way that without the the enclosed booklet I’d have probably missed them all together. This was a random, inexpensive pick-up, and certainly one that is intellectually stimulating if not particularly musically noteworthy.