Gardner's Straight Hedge No. II: The Finest In Punk & Hardcore
, May 12th, 2010 13:06
Our Noel Gardner's back with the best tapes, releases, CDs and so forth in punk and hardcore and says: what's wrong with jamming on the stepping stones?
Welcome to the second in this series of misleadingly/bad punningly named columns where I talk smack about a few months' worth of punk and hardcore records which have emerged from 'the underground', at least in principle. I don't really know or care what 'the underground' actually is at this stage in evolutionary history, but I'm pretty sure the record shop in (my) town hasn't carried any of these, and it's decently stocked and all. I said this last time so I'm not gonna be a locked groove about this, but there are a bunch of bedroom distros that are really good and deserve your money. Find them.
The primary achievement of the first column I wrote was becoming the second result that pops up if you Google "mysterious guy hardcore". Something which more and more curious internerds will be doing throughout 2010, mark m'words, thanks to blitzing releases by bands who encapsulate the form (this is how you create a dumb microgenre - start off by talking about it in tones of self-mockery and irony, slowly letting this go until it's getting tossed around like 'jazz', or whatever). Bands like Slices.
Cruising, the debut album by this Pittsburgh quartet on Iron Lung Records, has pretty much my favourite sleeve art of the year - an out-of-focus shot of the band standing next to an upmarketish-lookin' BMW in front of a cement factory -and some of the best burly-throated noizerawk raunch we're likely to get this decade-starter, too. When they settle into a semi-groove, there's a bit of early-era Oxbow in their menace, mebbe Chris Spencer from Unsane in the vocals too, but they're just as likely to whip out some klanging free-rock fugliness ('Nightmare Man') or NWW drone surrealism ('John's Public Hell'). It seems like these days, nominally 'punk' bands can play equally nominal 'noise music' and sound like they've actually listened to the genre's big cheeses, as opposed to just making a racket to get up people's noses. Not that there's no value in that, you understand.
Iron Lung have also just released 'Junk Existence', a three-track seven-inch by Society Nurse. Typically, they have sprung from the practice space loins of other bands, including Iron Lung, the grindcore duo from the Pacific Northwest with the eponymous label. This isn't groundbreaking tackle - Gregg Ginn-y squeals extracted from guitar, vocals bordering on Cookie Monster territory, a degree of speed and slop comparable to pre-Dinosaur Jr notables Deep Wound, rich Biblical imagery snatched up and used to lambast Christianity itself - but all these things are enacted in a REALLY GOOD WAY.
Staying grody and distorted, staying in the landmass of the United States, and staying on the format that three-part CD singles somehow didn't kill back in, oh, 1994, we gots the Homostupids and their Night Deacon (me neither) EP on Fashionable Idiots. These Cleveland bellends have been great and goonish since The Intern, their '07 debut album; this is their stupidest release yet, and thanks to the inclusion of a song insisting that "Every time I ride the bus / The bus driver lets me drive the bus / Because I suck his cock," also their most homo. Indebted to the sort of thing that got called 'funnypunk' in zines 25 years ago, fans of fuzz-fi newjacks like Times New Viking and Eat Skull will also recognise a kindred spirit in Homostupids' in-the-red-til-yer-dead garage battery.
ABSOLUTELY NO TUNES appear on any of the above releases, nor will there be any in this column until I'm done talking about the self-titled Lotus Fucker LP on Rescued From Life. Lotus Fucker are a Washington DC band, but their 'thing' is to filthily hail the Japanese noise-punk bands from the 80s - bands like Gai, Confuse and the Swankys who cribbed from, and/or had the same grog-addled mindset of, Bristolians Disorder and Chaos UK. Disgustingly relentless treble assault; thuddingly martial drumming; curdled steps towards metal soloing; a recording job that makes it sound like it was done on the world's loudest ghettoblaster. What is rad about the results of this, especially if like me you're a poncy fake trendhopping twat who probably doesn't even like this music but just heard someone going on about how transgressive it was, is that you can thusly file Lotus Fucker next to Ramleh, Skullflower or Hanatarash just as logically as the screeching legions of curdled crust-punk bands who wear leather jackets with studs on that weigh 20lb (you all noticed the GISM logos on Lady Gaga's garb in her last video, right?).
And shit, if I can vouch for those guys I would be a major tool to skip The Red List, the long-awaited split album between California's The Bastard Noise and Toronto's The Endless Blockade. Both these parties have been gamechangers in the field of powerviolence, the hardcore subgenre with the name that makes the unknowing giggle. TBN is the more explicitly noise-oriented version of Man Is The Bastard, who released a daft amount of fucked-up and bonged-out mecha-grind in the 90s; TEB have issued about the most forward-thinking powerviolence around in the last five years. Pummelling the listener for over an hour in total here, they make such a good tagteam I'd back them to take GX Jupiter-Larsen's title belt (it's a silly noise thing). Depthcharge bass/no guitar headwreckery from TBN gives way to TEB's dictatorially controlled thrash precision and mangled power electronics. I'd cautiously recommend their steez here to Fantomas fans, actually - at least until The Rita come along and remix 'Model 49 Rebreather' into an absurd and unrelenting wall of static.
Sometimes it's better to just be jarring than attempt a transition that ain't happening. To this end, let's talk about To Be Me (Deranged), the second album by Sweden's Regulations, because they are actual and unfuckwithable PUNK ROCK, which this column does actually like, you know. Apart from the Scando-tinge to frontman Otto's vocals, if you tried to pass Regulations off as a mysteriously lost and now unearthed classic of pre-hardcore North American punk you'd be unlikely to meet too much dissent. DOA, The Dils, The Slickee Boys and whatever other amphetamine yobbos (who still liked Blue Oyster Cult really) you wish to name: all those bands are dead. Regulations ain't.
Back here in the UK, a dude's thirst for garage-not-garage hook butchery and hands-off-our-culture DIY altruism can be sated with the help of The Shitty Limits. These guys have released one album and, with the release of this 45 on the wholly lovable La Vida Es En Mus label, six singles. They have basically all owned. Despite a drop in mean tempo since their early, sub-one-minute roarers, the impact of their thug-garage mode ensures 'Last Orders' and 'Selling Point' enter and exit with a bang. There aren't a ton of these pressed so get ordering with a swiftness. You should probably go to the Dire Records site and get the new cassette (#3) from The Love Triangle while yer a-browsing, cos it's silly cheap, it features Lewis and Tim from The Shitty Limits, and its four tracks suggest Nuggets immersion dusted with Television Personalities sark-o-sneer, which is good and righteous (definitely better than the new TVPs album, anyhow).
As for La Vida Es En Mus, they also have a brand new and similarly limited seven by Hygiene, a London band who have nailed that glottal-stopped amateur hour Messthetics spazzout with a great and paradoxical expertise. 'Things That Dreams Are Made Of' is a Human League cover which, at its inception, sets that band's entire musical aesthetic on fire; 'Fixed Odds Betting Terminal' tells us that when William Hill hits Nat King Dole, Hygiene's vocalist, it feels like a kiss. The sleeve image, a (presumably early-80s) snap of an Asian lad sporting white power badges, is nothing if not an eye-opener.
Seeing you to the exit by way of affirming the knowledge that good punk and hardcore is being made in Britain, I also give you an actual straight edge band. X'd-up hands on the cover and fuk'n everything. Never Again, approximately from England's south coast, are getting repped all over the place because they actually sound enraged at the world's follies, as opposed to just channeling a program of self-preservation into a mush of mosh parts and cheeseball calls for unity. I assume their busy shows are raised fists and grabbed mics a-go-go, but I'm down with anything that sounds like a crushed cube of Infest, DRI and early Victory Records chugging, which Never Again's Pressure EP (Carry The Weight/Hit Time/Worship) does.
Can I just say how the song 'Watered Down' off this thing bugs me before I fuck off, though? It's about someone or something related to the hardcore community "using DIY as a stepping stone,". Which is all very well, but (a) the lyrics are so vague as to be pointless - if their crimes are egregious enough to warrant a song, why not call them out? - and (b) now more than ever, the 'stepping stone' meme strikes me as wilfully ignoring how the record industry (in which I'm including every band reviewed here, on account of them making 'a record') actually works. A stepping stone, most probably, to getting your releases reviewed in publications sold in shops but still making no money as a result of no fucker buying records. So nothing changes, the wheels keep turning and DIY punk rock is once again not irrevocably soured by outside forces but a continuing space, a force, for righteous creativity and self-sufficiency. If you're reading this a decade from now, too: betcha it still is.