Do You Wanna Go To TijuanaRise Records
By Cole Faulkner
After fifteen years fronting Teenage Bottlerocket, Ray Carlisle ventures into solo territory for the release of his acoustic debut, Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana. Under the moniker of Ray Rocket, Carlisle has seized the opportunity to rewrite his band’s Ramones-style pop-punk in a deeper, more individualized key. Featuring a duo of new songs along with a host of Teenage Bottlerocket and Ramones covers, Carlisle translates a batch of twelve three-chord pop-punk earworms into thoughtfully executed, toned-down versions. These aren’t just copy-and-paste acoustic renditions, but rather re-imaginings that accent the melody and emotion inherent in the originals.
Taken as a whole, Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana plays out with remarkable consistency. The track listing has been carefully selected to highlight songs that rally around common themes, stand upon sufficiently deep lyrics, and generally lend themselves to being stripped down to their fundamentals and built back up. Take the formerly harmless little number “Nothing Else Matters (When I’m With You),” which builds upon a simple core of acoustic strums, occasional handclaps, and a chorus introducing flashes of piano and vocal harmonies. What felt minor and inconsequential in the context of Teenage Bottlerocket brings to light genuine emotion. A simple comparison to the original content of title track reinforces the outcome. “You’ve got yourself a condition, you need a physician, and then you put me in an awkward position, when you try to get attention using razor blades to cut up your wrists,” sings Carlisle before launching into a lighthearted, Karate Kid-referencing chorus. By inserting a hint of more serious subject matter alongside otherwise playful ditties, there’s little questioning as to Ray’s intent.
For an acoustic album, each song feels remarkably full in vision. Take the undulating, rhythmic pacing of “Go With The Flow,” which layers harmonies, acoustic chords, piano notes and synth sweeps. Each song’s production lands with remarkable poise, defining Ray Rocket as so much more than just another punk rocker gone unplugged. Other finely executed examples like “TV Set” and “Radio” reach for similarly grand heights, chiming with bells and electronic orchestration in subtle but commanding ways. Carlisle’s cover of The Ramones’ iconic “Pet Cemetery” takes full advantage of such ambience, building up the spooky, sing-along essence it’s known for. For all that goes on, Ray Rocket never seems to risk overdoing it.
For a straight-up three-chord pop-punker, Ray Rocket admirably transforms his band’s toe-tapping numbers into an insightful and focused side project. While more original compositions would have been preferable, Do You Wanna Go To Tijuana presents Carlisle as an engaging songsmith that that understands the nuances of connecting with audiences without sacrificing the fun and games that originally put Teenage Bottlerocket on the map. A great ice breaker with the best yet to come.