In January of 2018 Minneapolis trio Last Import dropped their first professional release, a five song EP called Songs for Adam. It was a blast of jaunty and edgy punk rock. Three of the five songs from this surf punk sampling would end up on their debut LP Last Import in February of 2019.
Guitarist and lead singer Emily Bjorke, bassist Grace Baldwin, and drummer Jane Halldorson have combined their substantial talents to write a dynamite first record. Last Import’s playing is tight and unfettered from any bells or whistles; with just voice, guitar, bass, and drums, the songs never feel underwritten or monotonous.
Their self-titled debut album is half an hour of catchy and complex music made by three obviously accomplished musicians. Last Import has a cohesive punk sound and sensibility combined with surf rock song construction that creates a superb collection of songs that are both recognizable and totally new. The production is professional but not too tidy. None of the instruments or vocals drown each other out, but it is straightforward and unpolished enough to sound like a great live recording.
The opening track “Lunar Rhapsody” is a brief and dense attention-grabber, opening with sharp guitar work and floating through blanket-thick backing vocals and a dynamic melody. The vocalizations in the outro are strong enough to sound like a flute synth. Emily Bjorke’s vocals are a perfect fit for these songs; her delivery is often punk and her voice is always pretty. She nails some intricate riffs on this LP, like on the track “Per Aspera Ad Astra.” The song’s sound and beat shift with the mood of the lyrics, taking the listener on the same emotional ride as the performer. The dissonance that’s expected when delicate, pristine vocals are combined with bruising rock makes the music even more compelling and textured.
The range of songwriting style on this album is a breath of fresh air in a stuffed rock scene. Almost all of them take left turns in sound or tone to exciting effect. On “Stay Rad, Ponyboy” the first half of the song is a rough-and-tumble sass track that evolves into a beautiful, yearning new refrain that longs for “San Francisco air.” Highlight track “(First Times At) Space Mountain” shifts gears several times over its two minutes and forty seconds, allowing for both surf-style backup vocals and a head-banging hook.
The track “Hot Damn” brings disco punk to the lexicon. Halldorson employs restrained and disciplined cymbal work under the sparse verses, Bjorke sings with irresistible charm and confidence, and Baldwin’s grooving bass playing binds the track tightly together. “Money” is full of defiance and personality; Baldwin pounds out surf bass licks through the tone of garage rock while Bjorke deftly switches from snarky verses to high, spine-chilling melodizing in the pre-chorus. Every track on this album is worthy of highlight, each with its own moments of surprise and significance.
Last Import makes music that is well-crafted but unrestrained. A debut album this dynamic and danceable should put them at the top of everyone’s ‘to watch’ list.