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Top records that inspired one of the most stellar rock albums this year, PARDONER’s “Came Down Different”

Pardoner by MJ Lucas-Tantingco
San Francisco’s PARDONER are back with their new album, Came Down Different (Bar/None Records). It’s their first label release since 2017’s Uncontrollable Salvation (Father/Daughter Records), which garnered them praise in Pitchfork and NPR, and made them a staple of live sets around the Bay. There’s been no shortage of excitement for the new record, with outlets like Rolling Stone, Paste, Under the Radar, Bandcamp, SF Weekly, and more weighing in on the quartets staying power.

Singles “Bunny’s Taxi”, “Spike”, & “Donna Said” provide a preview of what’s turned out to be their poppiest collection yet, but for Pardoner, that still means plenty of frenetic drumming and crushing guitars, all wrapped up in the bands singular visual language. Dive into the full album today to see what’s made this band one of California’s favorites.

Today, we’re stokes to give you our “Top 5 Albums That Inspired This Album” special, as seen by all 4 members of the band! Scroll further down to get inspired!

Drawn toward each other by some magnetic force and a mutual love of Yo La Tengo and Polvo, the early conversations that led to forming Pardoner wouldn’t have happened had it’s members not been living in the dorms at San Francisco State University. The primordial soup of spending countless hours around other creatives on an undergraduate campus has given the world no shortage of great bands, but for the time being, it’s only an anecdote from a pre-pandemic world.

Built around the core trio of Max Freeland, Trey Flanigan, and River van den Berghe, Pardoner quickly became a force to be reckoned with, melding slacker rock attitude with pummeling hardcore for a visceral sound not unlike a trip to the dentist’s office and a novocaine high. The band even have their own visual language, with record sleeves and t-shirts adorned in Flanigan’s distinct, psychedelic drawings. Every release since their 2015 inception has seen the group dial up their songcraft, culminating in a pair of exceptional LP’s – 2017’s Uncontrollable Salvation, and last years Playin’ On A Cloud. That same year, Freeland skipped town for Canada (who can blame him), and for a brief moment it looked like the band’s prolific run would be cut short, no longer fueled by proximity and spontaneity.


However, fate had other plans, and determined that the world was in need of another Pardoner album. With the addition of longtime friend Colin Burris on bass, the group concluded that in a world of constant uncertainty, their love of pummeling riffs and irreverent one-liners could be a grounding force.

In classic fashion, their new album Came Down Different, and first for Bar None Records, was recorded in a whirlwind two days with veteran producer and root beer aficionado Jack Shirley. Pulling from demos Freeland had recorded with the help of like minded Vancouver punks Dumb, and new ideas birthed from a month of incessant rehearsal at their old SF lockout, the decision to double down on the band has yielded their best album to date.


Without losing their angular weirdness, the album features some of their most pop moments yet, even occasionally ditching the foreman shouting for genuine hooks. Opener “Donna Said” begins with a gauzy sample from one of Freeland’s 4-track experiments, before a wall of feedback bleeds into a tangle of loose guitars and he makes the caustic proclamation “I got feelings and guitar, I wanna trade it for cash”. The aptly titled “Spike” erupts at breakneck speed, barely clocking in at over a minute but packing in the perfect dose of jagged guitars and drum fills. “They want twice the results in half the time!” bellows Freeland, lamenting the bleak state of employment, where, in a pandemic strapped world, evil bosses around the world are wringing every last drop out of their staff, who should feel so lucky to even have the opportunity to bleed for money. When the band comes in behind the dystopian opening riff on the title track, it’s hard not to lean back and think, “damn, these guys are good”.

Despite the juggernaut heft across much of the album, there’s no shortage of head bopping groove to be found. “Bunny’s Taxi” see’s the rhythm section operate like synchronized swimmers under snaking guitar leads, and the levity of “I Wanna Get High To The Music” provides a brief respite from the onslaught. The bubbling, Velvet Underground riff of “Lucky Day” builds with a sly grin before erupting into a vicious d-beat just for the hell of it, reminding us that in Pardoner’s universe, every moment of calm is stalked by a torrential dread, and the only antidote is a good time, however brief.

It’s fitting that the band’s third album will be released on the label responsible for an early Yo La Tengo record (1990’s Fakebook), and that half the songs were written in a wonky tuning Freeland stumbled on while trying to learn Polvo songs. Came Down Different serves as a full circle testament to Pardoner’s staying power, and their rightful place as one of America’s most exciting rock bands.

Pardoner is Max Freeland (vocals, guitar), Trey Flanigan (vocals, guitar), River van den Berghe (drums), and Colin Burris (bass). All four gentlemen checked in with us to give you their top album picks that inspired them to write “Came Down Different”!

Max’s picks:

The Buried Life – Medicine

Full to the brim with weird tones and grooves. Total masterclass on going from beautiful to evil, and doing both at the same time. That wah solo on “Never Click”… Beast

Tea, toast, & turmoil – Smudge

Expert mode short-form songwriting and funny, sweet lyrics. Doesn’t take itself too seriously, big inspo for songs like “I Wanna Get High to the Music”. We were listening to a lot of the Half a Cow Records stuff around this time tbh

Triptych / New River Head – The Bevis Frond

I was trying to teach myself to sing by singing along to the title track on New River Head. Cool psychedelic alternative rock. Including Triptych as well because the guitar parts are cooler IMO, and the rhythm guitar on “Donna Said” is pretty much “Lights Are Changing” played backwards if you wanna get all specific about it!

Bust ‘em green – Henry’s Dress

I think its cool how this album is sweet and saccharine and also really noisy and aggro. Seriously bomb vocal melodies. I was listening to “Winter ‘94” a lot when we were working on “Lucky Day”.

Bringing Home the Bait – Live Skull

Our little guitar squeals and stuff probably owe a lot to this record.

Trey’s picks:

Guided by voices – Alien lanes

A record full of short, sweet bangers that I’ll never get sick of. I like how all the songs run into each other

The byrds – Mr tambourine man

I was listening to a lot of 60s jangly stuff when writing some of the guitar parts on the record. Gene Clark is a genius songwriter

Meat puppets 0 Up on the sun

I like how this record is really bouncy and sunny but also kinda twisted and sinister sounding

Heavenly- Le jardin de heavenly

Some nice, catchy tunes on here. I think we were influenced by the pop sensibilities of a lot of that Sarah records stuff

Grateful Dead – Skull and roses

I wish I could play guitar like Jerry. If big railroad blues doesn’t make you wanna dance and shake your bones, I feel sorry for you

River’s picks:

Rays – You Can Get There From Here

Great Bay Area album that has incredible 8th notes on drums all the way through. Shout out Alexa. I tried to bite their drums on “Spike” and “Totally Evil Powers”. I swear I wasn’t trying to copy Parquet Courts okay ugghhhh 🙄

Impalers – Cellar Dweller

Album goes straight beast. Some real centaur mode shit. Not much else I can say about that tbqfh.

Gil Scott – Heron-Pieces of a Man

Drums go beast on this record. Bernard Purdue is the GOAT.

Grass Widow – Grass Widow

Listened to this album for the first time in 2012 right when I started going to SFSU and it made me really excited to make music in San Francisco.

Cheap Trick – Heaven Tonight

This was one of the first albums that I owned on CD and I used to play it a lot as a kid. I know it’s overplayed but the drums on Surrender go hard. That song and Can I Ride by Polvo have the most beast snare fills ever.

Colin’s picks:

Fugazi – In on the Kill Take

River and I always talk about how Joe Lally and Brendan Canty are one of our favorite rhythm sections of all time. They are always so solid as a backbone to a song while still having a real groove and musicality, so it’s a great thing to try and emulate.

Yo La Tengo/ I Can Hear the Heart…

Another great bass player in James McNew. They do a thing we try a lot where there is a really steady bass line with guitars kinda screaming all around it. I think that definitely is something that comes up in Pardoner a lot.

Polvo/ Today’s Active Lifestyle

Before I joined Pardoner I was just a big fan. I had no idea how they were doing what they were doing. They all turned me onto this band and it kind of all snapped into place for me.

Lemonheads/ It’s a Shame About Ray

I think I ripped a bass line off for our song Donna Said. I listened to this so much right before we recorded.

Dreamdecay N/O

One of my absolute favorite contemporary bands. Just an unstoppable unit, in awe of these lads. Only put out two songs last time and I listened to them to death


“Pardoner deliver wrist-shattering drums and red-hot riffs that land somewhere between shoegaze and surf-rock, and conjure a truly harrowing metaphor for life under late capitalism on a dying planet” – PASTE

“coiled but casual, going from cute, springy slacker-pop to amiably punishing distortion and back again” – ROLLING STONE

“toggles between unexpected bursts of white squall with soft, catchy hooks” – SF WEEKLY

“New & Notable” – BANDCAMP

“much of the same caustic feel of their previous work but with newfound attention paid to offbeat hooks and angular grooves” – UNDER THE RADAR

Fore more rock oriented inspirations, both classics and new picks, follow our playlist on Spotify:

ROCK Kaleidoscope // Spotify Playlist

Top records that inspired one of the most stellar rock albums this year, PARDONER’s “Came Down Different”
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