Wonton Soup // Hot Dog
Sun Lips Records
Recommended Track: No Fun
Many modern bands wear their influences upon their sleeve, a quality which might account for modern music critics’ tendency to confuse actual criticism with a laundry list of names, sounds and genres (that and intellectual turpitude, but I digress.) So here come young Ventura band Wonton Soup to one up everyone by literally wearing their influence upon the sleeve. I’m speaking of course of the FIDLAR poster pasted up on the bedroom wall behind the drummer, next to the American flag, smack dab in the middle of the art accompanying the online version of their debut EP, Hot Dog. While using such a photo is a fine way to head off any accusations of base imitation before the thought has had a chance to form, it does force me to address the obvious right off the bat: does Wonton Soup sound like FIDLAR? Well, you may ask. If you’re looking for FIDLAR’s cleaner version of punk mixed up with a bit of surf and a touch of pop to take the edge off, then yes, of course Wonton Soup sound like FIDLAR, if a bit younger and more soft-hearted. And if you like FIDLAR, yes, you will probably like Hot Dog.
My review could end there, but then another question occurs: is it really fair to judge a young band for having hewed too closely to their musical forebears when they’ve probably not had the time nor the inclination to expand their musical palette beyond the reaches of SoCal punk and pop-punk? (Though I have no way of knowing for sure short of some creepy Internet stalking, I’d wager Wonton Soup probably have an average age of about 20 and a large collection of cassettes.) At the risk of committing the same critical sin elucidated above, here’s a short list of what I hear when I listen to Hot Dog: aside from the aforementioned FIDLAR, there’s shades of Weezer in the mix of heavy chords with sensitively boyish lyrics (“So Scared”); any number of surf bands circa 1960-1995; a scoop of Burger Records-style goofball indie pop (“In Dreams”); and even Wonton Soup’s contemporaries Adult Books, whose “L.A. Ghosts” makes an appearance here under the name “Hula Girls”, a song which also takes a few blatant cues from Audacity’s “Garza Girls” for good measure.
There are two ways one can go from here: either you dislike the music on principle for being same-y and derivative or you can accept the idea rock music itself has aways been somewhat same-y and derivative, and identify the gems using whatever standard suits your conscience. Whereas my colleague Devon Rogers would probably pan these dudes for, as he so eloquently put it, both crossing and pissing all over the line between influence and mimicry, I’m inclined to be more generous because Hot Dog is so much fun. And the reason it’s so much fun is the same reason Wonton Soup are kind of smart for prominently displaying a FIDLAR poster in their art: if you’ve struck upon a winning formula—and regardless of what you think of pop-punk, it is the very definition of a winning formula—why fuck around? Petty theft is not the worst musical crime in the world and it should work decently enough if you’re a good band with good songs—and Wonton Soup is indeed that.
All of the above is to say that there ain’t much here we haven’t heard before but that’s just fine with me. I’ll always favor a band that recognizes and sticks to a killer format over a band that contrives to fool the listener by adding useless bells and whistles that neither improve upon the original nor disguise the fact that the music is derivative. Wonton Soup do sound a bit different from their peers, anyway. Hot Dog is well-recorded and quite clear, allowing us to hear Wonton Soup’s lyrics, many of which are quite cute, and showing off the band’s technical competency. The fact that Wonton Soup dispense with the whole “lo-fi for the sake of being lo-fi” bullshit and ditch the fuzz for shinier, more optimistic tones, sets them apart from the herd and is a huge mark in their favor overall.
Not that any of this would matter if the songwriting weren’t solid, which it is, mostly, and not only because they’re lifting the best bits from their favorite bands. When Wonton Soup hit the mark, they not only nail the bullseye but split the arrow. “No Fun”, the strongest track on the record, follows the classic format that runs straight from Nevermind to “No Waves”, but of course that’s what makes it so great. Compulsively singable and totally catchy, “No Fun” encapsulates the everything that makes Hot Dog such an enjoyable little listen, if ultimately another variation on a theme.