Mr Gardner's Straight Hedge No. V: Punk And Hardcore Reviewed
, August 10th, 2011 12:03
Back once again like some renegade masking tape, Mr Noel Gardner casts a TV Eye over punk and hardcore 7"s and demo cassettes etc that he himself has purchased
Although regional or national scenes and styles are as relevant in punk rock as any other type of music, more than most it’s cursed by a shyness and embarrassment over celebrating what’s around them. This isn’t universally true, and where it is true the reasons are vague and complex, but at the root, I suspect the problem is it can come off like patriotism – which can be turned, Chinese whispers style, into nationalism and racism. There’s also, I think, a general sense that lists of ‘top 15 bands showing the US how it’s done!’ , or similar, are cheap debate-starting tactics of the kind flogged by the mainstream music press (which I’m fully aware would include this website for many people).
Over the last few months, though, there have been so many pieces of recorded sound which are terrific, in a style relevant to this column, and created in the UK that while I was keeping a casual list of possible review items, it became quite dominant. So much so that bands previously reviewed in here were excluded on account of being, like, something that was good for five minutes in 2010. (Psyche: it’s for reasons of brevity. Moreover, the self-titled Hygiene LP on La Vida Es En Mus, The Shitty Limits’ Speculate / Accumulate EP on the same label, and not one but two ten-inches featuring Saturday’s Kids are all worth snagging.) Most of the bands I’m talking about here are incredibly new – five demo tapes coming up, motherfuckers – and, although I think it’s prudent not to overstate the communal aspect of a ‘UK scene’, a lot of ‘em play on the same bills, answer each other’s Facebook posts, dream the same crazy dreams.
Endless Grinning Skulls come from Nottingham and feature dudes who were / are in Army Of Flying Robots / Geriatric Unit. Endless Grinning Skulls (Viral Age), their debut album, represents a break of sorts from the bomb-blast thrashcore those two bands shovelled out. It’s still a punk record born of punk values and aimed squarely at punks, as the Crasstafarian stencil-lettered poster sleeve and Rudimentary Peni-style white lettering on black backdrop will tell you, but in amongst the frantic D-beats and submerged anarchopunk vocals, there’s allowance for a flourish or two. ‘Endless Grinning Skulls’ (the song) has a central riff that clangs like top-drawer Killing Joke, who were an analogue of anarcho much of the time anyway; ‘The Bones Of All Men’ has the kind of zombified repetitiveness that got Flipper bottled off stages on the reg thirty years back. Which is not to say that EGS don’t smash it on tunnel-visioned rippers like ‘Squalor’ and ‘Brutal Aid’, which sound like their titles.
When I saw Leicester’s Diet Pills play upstairs in a pub the other week, I neglected to buy the EGS LP they were selling in favour of getting abhorrent on Old Rosie. I did however buy Diet Pills’ self-titled debut album, on their own Force Fed label, and dang if it isn’t at least as much of a mind-molester as their performance. When they issued their debut seven-inch a couple of years back, they came off like an attempt to integrate the feverish lurch of Racebannon and the unsafe frothing of The Jesus Lizard, with a sludge-metal pace and fidelity. All this still remains, to some degree, but the long player format is used to eke out extra waves of inspiration and low vibes. It starts with a song lasting nearly ten minutes, and doesn’t give much less of a fuck about your attention span in the other four. Billy Anderson providing mastering might have helped with Diet Pills being as monstrous a slab of doomed-out sludge slop as Britain’s produced for some years; the highly unsettling sleeve art goads me into thinking that some of the friendliest band type folks I’ve met might have a side I didn’t quite catch.
Not only are UK hardcore bands sprouting at a bumper-crop rate, they’re turning themselves into produce faster than folks’ jaws can move. I was all set to enthuse about Some Horrible Bug, the cassette The Lowest Form sneaked out in spring. How its nine spectacularly blown-out songs could be seen to dance at the state line where Mind Eraser-ish quasi-powerviolence meets sociopathic ‘mysterious guy hardcore’ (something something five minutes in 2010 something), or a hybrid version of the Italian and Japanese HC scenes of 1983 that doesn’t cost £500 for an original copy. Then they released a seven-inch which is basically the same thing, but only featuring four songs, and this time including titles. Wonder if anyone in the band other than the guy who titled a song ‘Trip II The Moon Part Six’ knows it’s a reference to early Nineties breakbeat rave.
Do you see life as a long series of tiny, barely significant milestones? No? Well, here’s one anyway: the first emo record I’ve reviewed in this column’s short life, courtesy of Birmingham’s Human Hands and their debut seven-inch, which follows a couple of tape releases. If I’d been writing this in, say, 2004 there’d have been a lot more of this kind of thing, but for one reason or another most of the UK practitioners of this sound seemed to get bored of playing it after a while. There remain keepers of the flame out there, though, and with HH you get the impression that they’d still bother to ‘correct’ people who referred to My Chemical Romance as emo. Their sleeve art was created with a typewriter, paper, scissors, photos of people who look as though they're from the Fifties, a photocopier and nothing else; their two submitted songs move unhurriedly forth, but with vocals either spoken or hollered, and bouts of atonal, rattling guitar jangle. It’s disjointed and dramatic in a way that harks back to several Nineties outfits, especially Britain’s best known (and, frankly, best) emo band, Bob Tilton – maybe Human Hands are a period piece, sure, but I can dig it.
On a worldwide noizespod scale at least, Yorkshire’s Sump are probably the least exciting of the two bands on this here seven-inch, jointly released by Legion Blotan and Posh Isolation. That’s because the other is Sexdrome, who enjoy the twin trademarks of kudos of having an EP on the culter-than-life Youth Attack label, and being tight buds with Iceage, who like them are from Copenhagen. Does this stuff ‘matter’? It probably helps sell pressings out, which matters when it’s your cash (Legion Blotan is George from Sump’s label). Any road, these two bands are a natural pairing, both playing a fuck-ugly muddle of punk and black metal. Sump have this lactic acid-damaged sluggard thing about them that makes you worry your deck’s malfunctioning again, but for an avowedly lo-fi duo, there’s little thin or reedy about these three songs. Sexdrome play faster, with monomaniacal drums and a bass solo on ‘Thistles’ that sounds like the work of some one-off Not So Quiet On The Western Front band – if anything their recording is even fouler than Sump. Neither of these bands are quite up with Bone Awl, their obvious – if not the earliest – precedent for this whole blackened punk/punkened black steez, but their commitment to the extermination of fidelity is splendid.
An interlude, in which we take a well-earned break from the grot and wailing and… listen to some powerviolence and grindcore records, starting with Closure from Leeds. Their debut single (released by Feast Of Tentacles – they also appear on a four-band, double-seven-inch compilation) features eight songs, a recording with some serious chomp and lyrics that don’t ‘say’ anything as such but allude grotesquely and furiously to organized religion, substance dependency and plain old death. I suspect that dudes who are really, unbreachably purist about powerviolence – trust me, they exist in droves – would consider Closure too metal to fit the genre’s bill. Whatever: even if it’s hardly a stretch to imagine Converge fans glomming on to this (oh no the horror, etc), it pretty much slays in totality.
It is true that a lot of those who like their powerviolence and thrashcore and such like it to retain that old-style sound, which is (normally) to say a racket with lots of backing vocals, one really fast cymbal cutting through and songs that start with samples. Sweet deal! I’ve just described Smiler who live in south Wales and have an album called Con-Demned (on a label called Seven, although you’re best going to the band’s site to hear or buy it). While being inspired by scads of bands from the US and elsewhere, especially cats that emerged in the Nineties like What Happens Next? and Los Crudos, Smiler are very British – that is to say, they use snippets of Jeremy Kyle, say “cunt” quite often and tip their collective cap towards Hard To Swallow and folks from that whole scene. Kudos.
From similar pastures, and often featured on the same bills as Smiler, are Atomçk, whose first vinyl outing is a split single with Paucities. Atomçk’s roots are in (to one extent or another) CD-R noise absurdism, prog extravagance and politicized crust, as well the grindcore they actually play; yet the five tracks on their side are never comfortably hemmed in to one style, and fleshy sludge riffs and Man Is The Bastard-style stop-startery is in abundance. I was gonna mention the EP they have shortly on the guy from Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s label, but literally just noticed that one of the song titles has my name in it, so I won’t now. Paucities, from Chicago, have the same setup as Atomçk – vocals, guitar, drums, no bass – but are less ‘produced’ and chug more palpably than they grind. It’s actually not a galaxy away from Sump et al, although I think they’re chiefly hailing Agathocles, a Belgian band who play “mincecore” and have eight hundred albums or something.
Okay, from here until the end we’re talking cassettes, for some reason all courtesy of London bands. If you don’t have a tape player, and/or consider the resurgence of the format a gauche poserfest of technological slumming, then don’t tune out, as most of these folks throw their shit up (so to speak) on Soundcloud or similar. I have in the past advanced some half-baked theory about how it’s relatively ‘acceptable’ for punk and hardcore bands, likewise black metal and noise acts, to do cassette-only releases, as the format is intrinsic to the genres’ histories. As is being generally antisocial and pissing people off who might have otherwise become of a fan of your music. On the other hand, if Yuck or some useless indie band like them want to make themselves look like tryhards by ‘doing a tape’, when you KNOW that if someone had suggested the idea two years prior they would have reacted as if asked to use a chamber-pot instead of a flushing toilet, then who are any of us to stop them?
Satellites Of Love sound as much like Lou Reed as Saturday’s Kids (see above) do The Jam. They feature current members of Warm Ways (see below), The Sceptres (see previous editions of this column) and Facel Vega, who have issued split records with The Sceptres and Harbour (see previous editions), plus former members of The Mock Heroic, an emo band who now have personnel in Mob Rules (see previous editions). Not that this is incestuous or anything. The seven tracks on their debut cassette have this weird and commendable knack of sounding ramshackle and tight at once: the vocals of Noel Anderson, like a Welsh valleys version of Guy Picciotto circa Rites Of Spring, accentuates the ramshackle, while the echoes of stripped-to-a-frame rockers like The Wipers and Hot Snakes account for the tightness. For something that gives off legit party vibes, it’s pretty eerie and sinister too. More soon, please.
Warm Ways, meanwhile, might still have their tape purchasable here ready to reveal to you that it doesn’t sound like the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Warm Ways’. Rather, they’re about the kind of hardcore that conjures visions of red faces and pulsing neck muscles, but on slender dorks rather than vest-clad bullies. Essentially, they seem to be mining Born Against’s transitional period between relatively ‘straight’ NYC squat band and dark, sarcastic insurgent jesters with an album called Battle Hymns Of The Race War; they’d probably blush at the lofty comparison, but it checks out.
No feature Sceptres and Shitty Limits (see above) members, uncorking the built-up pressure that forms when you want to play some of that fast, splattery hardcore you love, but can’t do it in your main band. I’d imagine, not being in any bands or owt myself. They have released two cassettes; the most recent, Growing Up Together, is by some distance the best. Partly for not sounding like it was recorded on a ghetto blaster, but also for the splashes of actual melody, the creepily cyclical structure of ‘Through These Eyes’ and the general evocation (if never apery) of the whole Dischord ‘81/Boston ‘82/Michigan ‘83 vibe. If you understand that great feeling that really good HC can instill in you, where a band don’t sound like thugs or intellectuals or normals but somewhere ineffably beyond… at their best, that’s No.
Only slightly more Googleable, but equally dedicated to the art of the thrashy gnarlout, are Stab. Featuring ex-alumni of a few bands including Never Again (see previous editions), their tape is packaged in a bonzer cardboard box and has a lyric sheet. This allows me to tell you that Fossil the vocalist is sounding off about global consumerism spawning mediocrity, drugs as a tool of social control – I don’t think Stab are avowedly straight-edge, but do seem to be in the same ideological grid reference – and the ugliness of religious or fascist zealotry. Hey, if you were that jaded about stereotypically ‘hardcore’ subjects, you wouldn’t still be reading, right? Not that you have to be psyched about hearing them, or muddily recorded battering ram hardcore thrash that could be a relic from mid-Eighties UK or NYC alike, but they do it with aplomb – so if that sounds up your alley then, er, some awkward pun about being stabbed in an alleyway I guess.
The ‘concept’, if you can call it that, behind Good Throb is that each member plays an instrument with which he or she is ill-acquainted. So although this tape was recorded live in a rehearsal studio, minimal arrangements are the order of the day, and ensure that clarity prevails. Although Good Throb features Shitty Limits and Sceptres members – look, it’s not my fault they keep starting dope new projects – vocalist Ellie Roberts, who I don’t think has been in any other bands, is the element that really makes this. Her voice, all dropped aitches and rasps which make me think of Johnny Rotten more than, like, any lady singers, is equal measures of sarcasm and indignance. This is useful for lyrics which cover being perved on by old men, behind-till drudgery (‘Bag’, whose perfect mundanity is like the flipside of The Replacements’ ‘Customer’), and printer malfunctions. It’s not that they don’t care about global consumerism spawning mediocrity and suchlike, but… others got that covered, yeah? There will always, as in as long as human life lasts on Earth, be a need for music that sweats the small stuff topic-wise, and Good Throb have the poise needed to tackle it properly.