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Catchy, politicised, and energetic, American High’s ‘Cheye Calvo’ is a welcome return for social-conscious punk rock. Named after a real individual who was wrongfully subjected to a brutal ‘no-knock’ drug raid, the song plants a black and white question over the price of hardline prohibition. Cheye Calvo was out walking his dog when a SWAT team burst into his home, killed two of his dogs, terrorized his family, and upon returning, he was pulled into the fray.
In the west, America is perhaps alone in the scale of police militarization and the degree of force allowed – American High notes that approximately 100 ‘no-knock’ raids happen daily in the States. The music video for ‘Cheye Calvo’ demonstrates the insanity of 15/20-soldier raids on family homes, but also the history of it in the US, with grainy footage showing fedora-topped detectives raiding contemporary beer barons during the Prohibition Era. It’s a powerful visual accompaniment.
Music-wise, American High plays well to their strengths. Namely, the harmonized group vocals with diverse tonal characteristics that make for a trademark sound. The combo is tight, well-rehearsed, and sure to fire up a crowd.
The guitars have that grungy, elastic texture of classic west coast hardcore, contrasted with off-beat upstrumming in the verses – a Californian ska speciality in the lineage of Sublime. The only real complaint of the tune is the generic chord progression, but you could argue that that’s a price to pay in pursuit of an anthemic sound.
Boppy, sunny, and bright though the backing may be, the lyrics are as stark and outraged as one could imagine given what Calvo and his family suffered. It’s a curious dichotomy how such ‘happy’ music mixed with words on a heavy political issue can be such a potent formula, and American High tap into this simultaneous buzz of disgust and righteous optimism with ease.
Nowhere is this more striking than the obligatory na-na-na singalong in the bridge while the video shows helmet-cam footage of battering rams on doors and people bound on the floor. That’s a sign of a quality political punk tune though, inspiring the will to change an injustice and rising above the cynicism it may otherwise breed.