Baltimore is having a nice moment in the sun right now. Between Meek Mill’s new HBOMAX movie Charm City Kings putting Baltimore’s dirt bike scene back on the map and with musicians like Shordie Shordie and Pinkshift making massive waves on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, Baltimore is looking like it’s as good an artistic hotbed as it is a lacrosse hotbed at the moment. Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Michelle Peña of Baltimore based punk band Repo Fam is one of the most exciting musicians coming out of the artistic bloom going on in what its park benches tell me is “The Greatest City in America”. Michelle cut her teeth playing in punk bands across the DMV, most notably playing the keyboards for avant garde DC punk band Full Swoops, and is finally striking it out on her own with Repo Fam, releasing a self-titled debut album back in 2018. To follow that album up she has been releasing a series of music videos shot on Super 8 film to accompany every song on her new EP, Whipped Cream, which dropped today alongside their latest music video for the tape’s intro track, “King of Marvin Gardens.”
Each of the music videos Michelle has recorded for this EP have a retro chic that fits the vibe created by the old school camera used. Michelle told Talkhouse that with the videos, “I wanted to create a visual feeling of jazz; so, I edited the scenes to match the urgency of the songs,” and between the camera work, editing, retro outfits, and aesthetic touches, she absolutely creates that feeling. “King of Marvin Gardens” is a fuzzy and fun track that feels like a cross between The Minutemen and Guided By Voices, as Michelle sounds like she’s reading its lyrics like poetry. In the song’s groovy video she chills on the balcony in big ole shades and long luxurious red gloves as she’s smoking cigs, fiddling with roses, and playing her own vinyl on a 60’s looking record player. It’s so simple and yet so elegant, the whole video feels like a time warp from punk’s past in every respect.
“Psycho Bombs” and “Whipped Cream” are a touch poppier than “King of Marvin Gardens” and both saw similar stellar music video treatment. On the Hitchcock inspired “Psycho Bombs” video Michelle sings along in a blonde wig and alien mask, as she floats through the clouds and over the river on the quick and convivial punk track. On “Whipped Cream” Michelle starts off in a curly red wig and retro green one-piece bathing suit pushing her fist through a frame before flipping to shaving her face, maybe with shaving cream maybe with whipped cream. The song starts off with Michelle droning over the fuzzy guitar before singing with a trance like cadence, giving the track and it’s accompanying video a hypnotic quality. Each video is a quick hit that leaves a strong lasting impression. Michelle feels like she’s filling out her own ensemble cast with every different character that gets introduced in these videos, they all feel intrinsically interconnected and entirely of their own universe. Both these videos give off that retro jazzy energy that Michelle was going for and give the music a zonky, off-kilter, and yet still entirely fitting world to exist in.
The EP’s final track “Here We Come” feels like the collective group of everyone we’ve met in these videos all marching together making their presence known, driven by a steady drum beat and Michelle’s deadpan repeating of, “Here we come, here we come, join the fun, join the fun, what are you gonna do about that.” It feels like a protest song from a more optimistic time, or from a world where our presence and collective voices are enough to enact the change we want to see in the world. Like every track on the EP “Here We Come” is extraordinarily cinematic, as you can imagine it in any movie where the gang rounds itself up to go give the villain the comeuppance he has coming to him. I have no doubts that Michelle will do it justice when the track eventually gets its own music video.
Whipped Cream feels like it was time-warped from an alternative future where The Ramones became the biggest band in the world. Every song has a fuzzy manic punk energy that is perfectly paired with their retro, meandering, jazzy music videos. With this EP, Repo Fam created a little punk universe all to their own, one that I will definitely find myself revisiting several times over.