Spits And No Polish: Noel Gardner's Straight Hedge Punk & Hardcore Column
, March 14th, 2012 13:40
There are lots of types of punk and hardcore music which I have never written about in this column’s admittedly short lifespan. Some of them include: sunny melodic hardcore or pop-punk of the type that was huge in about 1997; that really sincere folky/Springstonian stuff made by men with beards and check shirts and called ‘orgcore’ for some reason; UK77 snotty orthodoxy or ‘streetpunk’ in general; ska-punk and, unless you have a highly elastic definition of the term, metalcore. If that elasticity extends to other punkish terms, the first couple of albums tackled below might offer exceptions to this rule.
On the whole, though, there’s no reason for someone like me to try and represent every nook in the house in the space of ten or so record reviews. Not only is it impossible - pretty much any area of interest is shared and dissected elsewhere, if you care to look. Admittedly, if your overriding obsession is with punk bands who drink bourbon to make music to drink bourbon to, the chances of you reading this column (or the Quietus in general) instead of Punknews are pretty slim. So who the heck am I talking to? Well, anyone who accepts that reviewing albums by bands called Thee Spivs and The Spits, one after another, isn’t necessarily tenuous scrabbling.
Black And White Memories (Damaged Goods), the second album by London trio Thee Spivs, came out at the twilight of 2011, about a year after their first album Taped Up. Herein lies a parable about giving second chances – Taped Up did next to nothing for me, coming off like a gentle satire on ‘punk’ as it’s generally summarised in BBC Three documentaries. Having a song called ‘Uncle’s Got An Asbo’ didn’t help, nor their debut single being on 1965 Records, whose main contribution to the world was The View.
A pleasant surprise, then, that Black And White Memories has a slew of legit bangers which make it effectively irrelevant whether Thee Spivs are coattail-riding, coattail-wearing New Cross indie dropouts or not (I still have no idea) or if their website includes positive review quotes from the Daily Mirror and a mention of playing at the ‘Glenfiddich Mojo Honours Show’ (it does). God knows I’m loath to give it the ‘it’s all about the music’ spiel, but I’m all about two-minute gobbets of the Ramones, The Lurkers, The Buzzcocks (‘Thanks I Get’ is a homage only matched in recent times by that one song on The Men’s new album) and Jay Reatard (the keyboards on ‘What’s The Use’). And that’s always gonna prevail.
The Spits (In The Red) is the fifth album ‘proper’ by Seattle goblins The Spits, the previous four having all been called The Spits too. You just know that these assholes never pass up an opportunity to be assholes! (Check out their website link above for some supreme high functioning sarcasm.) On the other hand, maybe it just speaks to their max dedication to efficiency and shunning of fannydangle. Not only do The Spits barrel through twelve songs in 18 minutes here, some of them appear to stop randomly in the middle; just as you’re marvelling at how ‘All I Want’ and ‘Fed Up’ have both captured the very essence of The Queers circa 1993 or so, >CHONK<, we’re done, and yer being rabbitpunched with some absurdist synthed-up garage, toytown Circle Jerks or a Nuggets-on-78 smoker called ‘Acid Rain’. You have to get inside the zone for The Spits, I think – a lot of this album kinda sounds like shit, and seems a bit like it was written the night before they hit the studio, but they write no-messin’ tunes at a level that outweighs a lot of bigger, better known punk bands. Maybe even NOFX! They did an incongruous split single with them a while back, you see.
Artcore is a punk rock fanzine from Cardiff which has been publishing regularly, or more than yearly at least, since 1986. This is unmatched by almost any punk zine that isn’t called Maximum Rocknroll, which self-evidently deserves a hat tip, but a combination of the internet and the mainstream music press has made it tougher to get people to buy zines since, oh, the start of the millennium. So in between helping to destroy its culture, let me suggest you throw Artcore a bone by snagging Terminal Decay – a compilation of twenty bands from twelve different countries, some of which are featured in the 29th issue of the zine that’s part of the LP package. (Most of Artcore’s recent issues have come with a record, as it’s tough to get people to buy zines because see above.)
The idea of international compilations like this one is largely archaic. The sleevenotes by Welly, the prime mover behind the zine, mentions fabled collections like Welcome To 1984, which MRR collated back when. It had bands from places like Yugoslavia and Brazil on it, and the idea of hardcore bands from those countries must have been profoundly revelatory to some at the time. Starry-eyed modern day equivalents can fire up last.fm, scroll through more or less every punk band from everywhere ever, and blithely reference a few when they’re trying to impress someone who can’t see how many tabs they have open. Take it from me, it’s bliss! Terminal Decay shouldn’t be seen as an equivalent to Welcome To 1984, though, more a reaffirmation of what advantages lay in the old ways. A twelve-inch licorice pizza in a nice card sleeve beats a .rar file on a hard drive, that’s a no-brainer, but the (for want of a better word) curatorial aspect is important, likewise the evidence in front of you that a serious amount of graft has gone into this.
Also (I was getting to it) there’s a high percentage of great songs on here. Not everything floats my boat: Finnish anarcho troop 1981 contribute my least favourite song from their demo; 40 Hells are gruff gruel and Off With Their Heads have clearly proffered an offcut. Meanwhile, Agent Orangey surfbros Night Birds deliver a twangy joybuzzer; Hygiene’s synthed-up Messthetica is easily one of the three best songs about asbestos I’ve heard; The Estranged, ex of various crust bands of note, do gothy post-punk with a singer who sounds like Michael Stipe (it’d be hilarious if they started getting A&R rimjobs, but it could happen); Fracaso from Venezuela and Knuste Ruter from Norway are OTT like only those crazy furriners can be; and Bad Sam scramble garage thud, pop-metal soloing and Jello Biafra snarl. That this compilation is going to get a song by Bad Sam – a south Wales group who are great but barely active – sent across the globe nails, for me, why it’s a heartwarmer.
Facel Vega are also a south Wales group, to me, although in practice they have helped their cause since members moved from salty Porthcawl to smoggy London and dirty, dirty Leeds. After about four years together, they have a debut album – The Body (Art For Blind). If you have an itch for DIY punk that sits in unclaimed territory between post-hardcore and emo – much of the Dischord roster between 1985 and 1992; the less violent Ebullition Records poetry reciters (Bread And Circuits or Yaphet Kotto, say) – then as long as you’re cool with there being a constant underbelly of postpunk and Sonic Youth scrabble-rousing, The Body has effing DAGGERS to scratch you. Like, you could truthfully say this “sounded like Fugazi” to someone who wasn’t a super knowledgeable fount of underground punk rock like you (i.e. didn’t have the patience for endless last.fm clickthroughs) but you’d never mistake Facel Vega as a band who’d just cribbed off Fugazi and left it at that. Some of the rhythmic understanding on here has me grinning like a drawing of a skull on a biker’s T-shirt, and there are guitar breaks on jams like ‘Copycat’ and ‘Worms’ that should rightly be igniting hundred-strong moshpits which would then get told off for being too violent. KIDDING!
If you drink The Quietus’ Kool-Aid on the reg, you may already own some stuff by Walls. These Walls aren’t the Walls on Kompakt Records, though, they’re the Walls who live in the Pacific Northwest and make pummeling sludgy hardcore with a notably negative outlook. I’m pretty sure they have firsties rights over the name, should it ever become an issue, but why not make them number one in your world by picking up The Future Is Wide Open (Graanrepubliek), their second album? “YOU LIVE LIKE A FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT. YOU ARE JUST A FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT.” August Alston, Walls’ elegantly named vocalist, has your number, and his three band members have fashioned a draining backdrop to accompany the message. They can play whip-fast, as on opener ‘Just Complain’ (the source of the above lyric), they can hold a note for an uncomfortably, Melvinsly long time, but their default setting is mid-paced noiserock that’s simply more bull-brained and blown-out than most of the competition. There’s even a rocked-up cover of ‘Mekano’ by SPK. For context, Unsane have a new album ready to drop, but if it goes this hard I’ll be one impressed customer.
I wrote a bit about Chicago’s Cülo in the last of these columns, noting how they’re staking out the territory of confrontational nihilism, or refreshing un-PC-ness, or something like that. Having now copped Life Is Vile… And So Are We (Deranged), their close-on-discography LP, I’ll partly adjust that claim. Although Cülo – four white dudes with an umlauted Spanish bandname from a city with a large Hispanic population – have been clutched to modern HC’s bosom, they do come off like genuine outcasts, and guys whose non-band lives are actual dead ends. You might not personally be hyped for songs about fucking other people’s girlfriends, or shooting glue, or “boots and leather since I was fourteen years old” (‘Don’t Care Part II’), or sleevenotes about feeding boys cough syrup until they pass out then touching them up… but if you would deny these fuckos their outlet, the real oppressor would be YOU, amirite?
If lyrically, Cülo are like a marginally more defensible GG Allin, their music is far more worthy of existence. Early Poison Idea (if that tickles ye, stay tuned) might be their Dead Sea Scrolls, along with a second mortgage’s worth of Eighties rustbelt thrash and motley crews with metal guitar leads, like RKL or Septic Death. At their most sedate, they compare with early Fucked Up; over the four releases collected here, their sixty-second brickwall braindrills display virtually no evolution, and nor should they. Also, they have two guitars and no bass, their logic being that everyone prefers guitars to basses.
Wretched Hour (Vinyl Rites) is the first time I’ve properly encased myself in Florida’s Nazi Dust. This is because all of their previous releases have followed the Youth Attack Records dictum: nice packages in such limited quantities it’s next to impossible to obtain one. While more comfortably purchasable, these ten short songs are pressed to one side of twelve-inch wax; you can think of the blank side as a lamentable waste of petroleum, or you can eat fried eggs off it, making it a “unique rare 1 of 1 personalised mysterious guy HC Youth Attack” edition [via eBay descriptions]. In terms of the bands they often get bracketed with, Wretched Hour is pretty straight down the line. No black metal or power electronics influence, no experimental drone B-side (although if there was a B-side at all…) or fascination with Thurston Moore’s tunings – Nazi Dust rely on buzzy, trebly stomps with cool drum rolls and a knowledge of the meanest Boston HC sides. ‘Doomed For A Loss’ and the title track are probably the keepers here, although a lot of the time they seem to be ticking boxes more than nailing inspiration, if y’get me.
If Nazi Dust are proving themselves Sugar/Trump-level dons of marketing their product, this fucking Schizophasia LP should be the thing that contestants on HC Apprentice get lumbered with to try and sell. Schizophasia are Canadian punks who crib most of their style off Japanese noise punks; the songs on 3000 (Streaks), their second album, are each named after a different sci-fi movie, but all the titles are in Arabic. No doubt you already own dozens of records just like this, but let’s try and break it down anyway. For a minute or two, it’ll be totally moronic gluebag pogopunk, until the drummer stops or dies or something and we go into the industrial noise mincer Throbbing Gristle and Hanatarash built. While side A has a majority of the punk, side B squeezes into the Darth Vader vocal helmet, launches into the slug-salting gurgler ‘Judge Dredd’ (I used Google Translate) and reaches an apex with ‘American Cyborg: Steel Warrior’, which is Iike a mouthwash drinker’s version of yer Bomb 20/Techno Animal ‘post-hip-hop’ folks who got their dicks sucked in The Wire circa 1997. Short version: if you’d taken your grandparents to see the Butthole Surfers in the mid-Eighties, I suspect it would have sounded like this album to them.
There haven’t been many singles that have reached my personal shore in the last few months, but you NEED to hop on board with Long Pigs from New York. Yes, I know there was a mid-card Britpop band called Longpigs, I’ll just stand over there while you acknowledge the fact this band are almost called the same thing. Done? Super. Long Pigs breathe the same air as bands like Crazy Spirit and Perdition, and have in fact released music by both on their Toxic State imprint. This six-track debut seven-inch arrives on Sweden’s SMRT label, but has frameworthy silkscreened artwork on a par with a Toxic State release – and a commitment to damaging distortion that may even outstrip their pals. This is about as chaotic as hardcore can get before it starts being something else, really: it’s addictive, the way they sound like they’re gonna sink in the mud before a guitar break or gasp of definitive rhythm is summoned up, and we’re careering down the road again, even though we got splattered. Short version: a TED talk on how the Germs at their worst paved the way for continental Euro HC at its best.
If this column was a football team, and having the same name as another band was scoring a goal, then Hounds Of Hate would have just tucked away our third. A four-piece, they live variously in NYC and Pennsylvania, have served in a few other bands (bassist Dave Rosenstrauss was on the first two Pissed Jeans albums) and, unlike the Hounds Of Hate from London, do not “produce a lo-fi blend of acid house, dub and electronica that has seen them been dubbed as soft-core screw house.” A lo-fi blend of pre-1989 Revelation Records, decade-old youth crew bands and Oi-tastic gang choruses is a pretty good summary of No Redemption (Katorga Works), the debut HOH single. Moreover, the publication of this article will see it be dubbed, by me, as “shamelessly stylistic, and so corny they write STRAIGHT EDGE in upper case gothic font on the lyric sheet – but impressively mean-sounding NYHC retroactivism, if that’s what moves you.”
In spite of the genre’s unquenchable thirst for archive raiding, there are still countless Eighties hardcore bands who could do with having their prototypical thrashings gathered up, preferably by a high-profile label. Poison Idea, in the scheme of things, aren’t really one of them: they’re pretty canonical as HC bands go, and have a recognition factor to non-obsessives, thanks to Pantera and Machine Head covering their songs as well as their two longest-serving members being chronically obese. Nevertheless, their very earliest recordings are either unissued or elusive, so Southern Lord step in to serve up the 29-track Darby Crash Rides Again – two demos from ’81 and ’82, a live radio set from ’83 and two outtakes from an ’84 LP.
Later on in the decade, they’d bring an element of hard rawk heroics to the table, peaking with 1990’s regal Feel The Darkness, but at the point captured here they were utterly committed to making hardcore, pushing its tempo and boiling it down until only its base emotions and urges were functioning. As the album’s title indicates, early PI were galvanised by the recently-dead Darby Crash and the Germs, but at heart they were art ponces and Roxy Music fans. Frontman Jerry A carried on Darby’s work in the most respectful way: by dismissing large parts of it, and, over time, carving their own raging sound.