Downtown Boys have so much buzz around them right now that newcomers might be forgiven for harboring some skepticism. Are they really, as Rolling Stone declared in 2015, “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band?” That’s debatable, but they deserve credit for staying committed to their espoused progressive politics.

The spoken interludes on their new album Cost of Living are a reflection of that. “Heroes (Interlude)” and “Bulletproof (Outro)” — which are delivered by a calm, NPR-style voice with ambient background music — may strike some listeners as out of character and more than a little corny.

But like their Springsteen-inspired name, these admonitions to be your own hero and “stay safe [and] stay bulletproof” underline Downtown Boys’ populism. They’re not in it just to make a buck, spout some undigested platitudes or adhere to some punkier-than-thou ideal. They want to connect with people directly, to help them get through their lives.

Of course, people don’t listen to Downtown Boys just for monologues. Boasting production from Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, Cost of Living refines and enhances the medium of their message. On the opening track, “A Wall,” the band’s hollered vocals, moaning sax, clanging guitar and manic rhythm section sound clearer, sharper and catchier than ever. This helps singer Victoria Ruiz’s message of defiance and empathy hit even harder: [LISTEN]

The more polished sound also adds nuance to bits of pure punk venom like these lines in “Promissory Note:” [LISTEN]

Thanks to the sense of relish in Ruiz’s snide vocals and the bouncy beat and bassline, these verses sound both menacing and playful. The music should keep English-only listeners engaged when Ruiz sings in Spanish too. Even if you don’t know exactly what she’s saying, you still get the general idea.

Downtown Boys know there are all kinds of walls in the world today. Cost of Living shows them figuring out new and better ways to break them down.