Mike Llerena‘s five-song EP Absence & the Heart is a blast of punk-folk adrenaline that fans of The Menzingers will latch onto immediately. I put “punk” in front of “folk” instead of the more common reverse (folk-punk) because Llerena can play folk, but it takes less than thirty seconds into the first song for Llerena to roar “my life’s a wreck” in a throat-shredding yell over punk-rock guitar distortion and tone. “End of the Line” kicks off with a wiry punk-rock guitar melody before dropping into the standard punk-rock guitar chug that has served so well for so many years. “Lady Rock & Roll” is a bit more old-school rock at the beginning, but again, Llerena lurches into full-on punk rock blitz before thirty seconds are up.
These punk rock blasts (complete with the occasional “whoa-oh”) are anchored by Llerena’s insistent tenor, which is in the same vein as The Menzingers’ vocal tone. The melodies share similarities as well. But Llerena is no knock-off; where The Menzingers can ratchet up to snarling tunes, Llerena ratchets down to ballads. Lead single “Rosanna” has an old-school country/rock’n’roll fusion vibe, while “Dear Lonely” is an acoustic ballad that draws equally on the melodic aesthetics of “acoustic songs by punk rockers” and lonesome country tunes.
If you’re looking for some punk rock to get your summer going, Mike Llerena can help you out. But he can also get you a sad song or two, if that’s what you need. Overall, this is a strong demonstration of varied songwriting from Llerena.