Noel's Straight Hedge VIII: Punk Straight From The Canon
, June 18th, 2013 08:14
Birthday boy Noel Gardner is back with his recommendations for all you who need some punk rock in your lives: this time around, Full Of Hell, Rough Kids, Concrete Cross, Sufferinfuck, Una Bèstia Incontrolable, Filthpact, Bad Noids, Perspex Flesh, Guilty Parents, The Boys and more
It would be cool to make out that there isn’t an adhered-to canon in punk rock and hardcore, or a hierarchy, or a list of stuff that you’re effectively "supposed" to like if you want people to think that you "get it". All those things are very much in place though, of course. Punk rock is very keen to tell people that it isn’t like stuffy old mainstream rock, but as a genre it’s going to be in middle age soon (perhaps even is already), and accordingly, finds solace in familiarity.
Like the canon that’s entrenched via Rolling Stone lists and the like, the punk canon has many non-linear layers, akin to a cross-section drawing of a sedimentary rock. They are also largely immune to change by outside elements. Every subgenre and subset of a subgenre has its Beatles, Stones and Dylan – bands who will always be deemed top dogs, the rainbows newer groups reach for in a fug of futility. Certainly, there is talk of lost classics and suchlike, now more than ever in these archivist salad days, and collected chatter can still build a consensus round new releases. It’s very hard to know what modern punk records are going to be remembered as greats of their time in 2043, but I doubt many people were that sure in 1983, either.
Nor should it weigh on a sensible person’s mind – this may be the most earnest I’ll ever be about typing YOLO – but it is kind of dispiriting to stumble upon a record that, despite knocking you on your rump with its radness, seems destined to get wedged under the cushions for one reason or other. If a new punk album isn’t lavished with kisses in 2013, what are the chances of this being reversed by the next generation? Slim to zero, I’d have imagined. The two best punk/HC albums I’ve heard this year to date (apart maybe from Pissed Jeans’ latest one, which got about as much exposure as could have reasonably been hoped for) have yet to capture any wider audience that I’m aware of. Granted, in the case of one LP it’s only just been released, but both are such blisteringly on-point examples of their craft that not telling the townspeople about them would be a crime, as recognised by the United Nations. Best use this column wisely, then.
The sort of music LA four-piece Rough Kids play – jittery late-Seventies styled melodic punk with keyboards and glam-rock flourishes – is never completely in or out of fashion. The last two acts to really nail it, and make a name for themselves doing so, were probably The Exploding Hearts and Jay Reatard circa Blood Visions and his Matador singles. Not a great omen, given that Jay and three quarters of The Exploding Hearts are no longer alive, but Rough Kids’ debut album The State I’m In (Sorry State) is utterly worthy of carrying this particular torch. One which had previously passed through the sweaty hands of pre-album Buzzcocks, first-album Damned, early-doors Cali beach punks like The Crowd, most of the Dangerhouse Records roster… yeah, this is a period piece, no-one’s pretending otherwise. (At a guess, their song ‘Into The ‘00s’ is referencing this rickety gem from cult English obscurities The Now.)
If you insist on only listening to music that couldn’t have existed a generation ago, that’s your lookout, but yer missing out on fried gold, chum. Sounding faintly gothic on album opener ‘Same To Me’, Rough Kids swiftly crack open the Heartbreakers electric piano parts and bubblegum metal solos (‘Cyanide’); at times, namely ‘Locked Inside’ and ‘This Technology’, it’s robotically spasmodic enough to suggest how Devo might have sounded if they’d been mentored by Crime. The State I’m In’s star hasn’t faded one bit since I snagged it early this year; if there was justice in the (punk rock) world, it would have sold out ages ago, but it hasn’t. You, with your turntable and Paypal account, have the power to help make this happen.
Collectively, the members of New York’s Concrete Cross have likely been round the block too many times to be fussed about that elusive breakthrough at this point. Their self-titled debut album, released jointly by DeNihil and Man In Decline and coming pretty well out of nowhere (they did a demo in 2010 but have been apparently content with local schlub status since), thanks Sheer Terror and Rorschach in the liner notes, and at least part of CC’s lineup is old enough to have seen both of those NYHC stalwarts at their early Nineties peak. Before he was Concrete Cross’ vocalist and curator of an amusing photoblog, Artie Philie fronted various hardcore bands who no-one really talks about now, including Milhouse and Indecision. Remarkable, then, how this eighteen minutes is as fresh and relevant as brickwall HC gets in 2013.
Recorded in a Queens basement, the production is amazingly powerful: outrageous metal guitar leads get detonated roughly once a minute, and Artie lends his larynx as a blast zone, puking lyrics about, quote, “freaking the fuck out, and not in a good way” over the top. If you wish to "hear New York" in its ghastly grooves, a case for such can be constructed, in the same way as people did for Antidote or the Cro-Mags or whoever way back when. Otherwise, imagine Negative Approach or Massachusetts’ Out Cold if they coloured outside the lines a bit more, swivel-eyed Japanese loons G.I.S.M. without the weird air-hangar recording, or Y2K revivalists like Strung Up and Government Warning if… well, if they’d made significantly better records than they did.
After I’d ceased golf-clapping at the monitor from which I first read the details of the new album by Hard Skin (on tour in June and over the summer, you’ll notice on their site), it struck me that it was a dead cert to stack up amused/amusing reviews in the "mnstrm press". It’s been out since March and has, in fact, had next to fuck all written about it. Their third album and first since Same Meat, Different Gravy in 2004, On The Balls (JT Classics) is another 27 minutes of raucous, thigh-slapping London Oi! in thrall to the Cockney Rejects/4 Skins/Business/Cock Sparrer top table. Musically superior to their 1996 debut (they have other things in their lives, y’dig?) Hard Nuts And Hard Cunts, if arguably less likely to generate as many enduring catchphrases, any degree of evolution worthy of the name would defeat the point of the Hard Skin project. That is to say – if you’re not up to speed already – Hard Skin aren’t ‘real’ skinheads, rather some cheeky punks who thought they could make a better Oi! album than the crop of nineties Oi! bands. Lots of people agreed, making it plausible to sing ‘Another Terrace Anthem’ (“…from a skinhead band / We’re the best band in the land”) with a straight face. Hard Skin’s Sean Forbes, trading here as Fat Bob, spent several years fronting Wat Tyler – to paraphrase Churchill, a very self-deprecating band who had much to be self-deprecating about – so, you know, yin and yang.
Forbes has also worked at the Rough Trade West shop since forever, or thereabouts, which goes some way to explain Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear, the alternate version of On The Balls. This consists of the same twelve songs, but with the vocals re-recorded by different women on each track, mostly of an indie persuasion – the most on-paper comical examples being Beth Jeans Houghton’s ‘We’re Gonna Do Them’ and ‘Two Bob Cunt’, as sung by Alela Diane. Essentially, the fact Why Do Birds… exists at all is its own reward, and it would be greedy to expect it to also be consistently good – so let’s hear it for Debbie from Echobelly, Miki out of Lush and, perhaps surprisingly, Manda Rin from Bis for giving the impression they’ve actually listened to boorish punk rock in their lives. This is, shall we say, not the case with The Duke Spirit’s Leila Moss or Alison from The Kills, whose old band Forbes released a single by when hardly anyone was arsed. As for Joanna Newsom relating the story of a crooked loan shark, and the skinhead justice meted out to him, on ‘The Man Who Ran The Town’… it’s not that she doesn’t give it a good go, just that there might have been voices more suited to an uptempo Oi! number than hers. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, for example, or Anne Widdecombe.
Are Hard Skin the only Oi! band you need to check for? By no means. Should you feel bad if they end up being your token venture into the genre? By no means. Everyone who thinks of themselves as, in dating website parlance, a "serious music fan" either has pockets of their taste where they merely skim the surface of the cream, or they methodically and deliberately limit what they listen to in order to achieve greater levels of zealotry in these areas. Which is all peachy, but it probably won’t impress the vicar when he’s standing next to your coffin with a notepad in his hand.
If someone who doesn’t listen to a lot of powerviolence buys a powerviolence record, there’s a reasonable chance it’ll be by Portland’s Iron Lung. It’s not that they have any great commercial cachet, they’ve just been punishing, exacting and excellent on the reg for a decade-plus now, and word of mouth has trickled outside of the PV/grind borders. Prior to White Glove Test – 18 tracks of horrid newness which is co-released in Europe by Feast Of Tentacles and De Graanrepubliek – their last album was a recording of their set at 2010’s Supersonic festival (roughly two parts music to three parts banter, if memory serves), and they also feature on Sub Pop’s recent 1000 comp LP.
A duo for most of their time together, but five in number on this album, Iron Lung still have a fixation with medical imagery; one distinct from the gory prurience of Carcass, though, more like a misanthropic rewriting of dialogue from around the operating table, and the barroom post-shift. Musically, White Glove Test is never about speed for speed’s sake, and is at its most powerful when shifting gears between crashing, avalanche-inducing sludge and vein-popping blastfests. ‘Nothing’ and ‘Industry Endings’, the album’s last and longest numbers, show that great powerviolence doesn’t have to be around the sixty-second mark, but by then the mid-album trilogy of tracks, ‘Brutal Supremacy’ parts I-III, may have already eviscerated your defences.
There’s a digital companion album of straight-up noise available for White Glove Test, which it’s suggested you play concurrently, a bit like that Neurosis/Tribes Of Neurot twofer from way back when. Alternatively, you could listen to Rudiments Of Mutilation (A389), the second album by Full Of Hell, and get roughly the same thing on a single recording. From the little I know of these fellows from America’s north-east, they were raised on the hardcore side of the tracks, but the noise textures that suffuse every hint at upbeatness on here are deployed with a vicious care. Any initial misgivings about the churning negativity being somewhat overcooked – the cover art is Marilyn Manson-fan’s-A-level-art-project levels of dismal pseudo-profundity – is swept away in a barrage of screeching electronics, sludge tones kicked out at grind tempos and the vocals of Dylan Walker, which at differing points hint at Atilla Csihar and Genesis P Orridge, to give only two disparate names. If anyone reading picked up the Wölfbait tape I was shilling for in my last column, Full Of Hell are coming from a comparable (musical) place, although they’re a bit more metallic. Man Is The Bastard, Burmese and Integrity fans are advised to check in, too; adding anti-music industrialisms to hardcore might not be breaking new ground in 2013, but it’s still possible to stake out your own territory.
None of which is to shit on the idea of making nasty, throaty, grimy music that concentrates on taking it back to the roots. Filthpact, from Aberdeen, and West Lothian’s Sufferinfuck both make a solid Scotch fist of this on a split ten-inch EP, released by a heartwarming five labels (Active Rebellion, At War With False Noise, Bitter North, Hollow Soul and In Boredom). Filthpact trade in downtuned crust punk with a metallic aftertaste, songs which start with samples off the telly and lyrics which mix social conscience and light metaphor. How delightful that I happen to be reviewing ‘Digital Division’ in a week where the NSA scandal has fast-tracked some of its concerns to the front pages. Sufferinfuck hark back to the messy clatter of the West Coast powerviolence O.Gs, which is to say that there’s a few slow doomy bits and lots of bastard fast bits, and the lyrics are pared down to only the most essential verbiage. Apart from ‘Central Belt Disappointment’, whose title is self-explanatory, Sufferinfuck could be railing against anywhere – whether that’s a good thing is open to debate, I guess, but no quarrel with the quality of their gnarl.
The only way I can usefully jump from those two to Una Bèstia Incontrolable is by noting that Filthpact’s side features ‘Alba’, an ambivalent mulling of the Scottish independence issue. UBI’s nine-song debut album Observant Com El Món Es Destrueix (La Vida Es En Mus) is sung in Catalan, reflective of their Barcelona homestead. The translations helpfully provided on the insert suggest there’s a running crypto-concept of ecological alarm and finding a grim solace in nature: the band who quickly sprang to my mind was Wolves In The Throne Room. The music is a whole different kettle, you understand, its foundation being stompy, reverb-soaked Euro HC (members used to be in Glam and Invasion among other Spanish racketeers) but with creepy, gothy buildups and psychedelic wander/wondering to twist your blood. Haven’t a scooby what’s in this lot’s record racks, but I get the same feeling of dramatic abandon, and learn-the-rules-just-to-break-‘em attitude, as can be gleaned from Rudimentary Peni, Flipper and The Stooges’ most prime platters. Apart from ‘Vaixells Oblidats’, which kind of sounds like ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ by Joan Jett.
After 24 minutes of relative grandeur and intellect, cranking the debut album by Bad Noids parps a cloud of bathos into the air. Everything From Soup To Dessert (Katorga Works) would do this if it was played after about 99.5% of albums. The front cover is a gastronomically upsetting, bigger-than-lifesize retro TV (or possibly airline) dinner; whoever wrote the lyrics on the rear has the handwriting of a ten-year-old. As knowingly remedial quasi-hardcore/demi-garage/crypto-noiserock goes, Bad Noids’s deck isn’t quite as stacked as, say, Cülo or Homostupids, perhaps because they don’t really pack many hooks with their mess of maggots. (Exceptions: the unexpected harmonica wailing at the end of ‘My Country’, and the nagging riff that kicks off ‘Simple Skitzo’ right after.) In the moment, though – all seventeen minutes of it – this ill-mannered slop ought to cleanse you of a desire for ‘dignity’ in your music. That they’re from Cleveland, Ohio, and thus upholding the tradition of scummos like H-100s and Nine Shocks Terror (and Homostupids), serves to help figure Bad Noids out. They’ve even been known to cover ‘Eyes Of Satan’ by The Pagans, just like fellow Clevo bastards Midnight.
Modern unproblems: while I was writing this section of the column, half of my Facebook feed was people complaining about their domestic peace being shattered by Bon Jovi playing a concert in the local football stadium. I myself couldn’t hear a fucking note, because I was caning 'Ona', the debut seven-inch by Leeds’ Perspex Flesh. Released on the American imprint Video Disease, these four tracks start with an unnervingly loud fly’s buzz before blossoming, Venus flytrap-like, into some viciously recorded bug-eyed hardcore. Urbane and predominantly midpaced, there are enough metallic, chugging rhythms to suggest a creeping Cro-Mags influence, as well as some stuff that didn’t do quite as well in the Credibility Wars. The four members have probably internalised a fair crop of latterday weird/mysterious HC (guitarist Rob Tyers definitely has, as he writes about it in his Limited Readership [http://limitedreadership.blogspot.co.uk/] zine, one of the best around at the mo), but purely on the basis of Ona, I’d have had Perspex Flesh pegged as brutes before nerds. Truth’s likely somewhere in between, as usual. More importantly, New Jersey’s unfinest are still comprehensively blotted out as I conclude this slightly long paragraph.
Should you want every air molecule in the vicinity to get blatted by sound of an urgent and maximalist kind, you could also do a lot worse than Guilty Parents , a band from Nottingham. Their self-issued Noro EP – their second tape and third release overall – feels slightly more hinged than Slimewave from last year, and has probably the most indie-friendly sound of anything reviewed this time out. However, the Butthole Surfery use of heavy vocal delay still pays dividends, and they explode into a Big Dancefloor-Friendly Riff with the dexterity of bands far more practiced and indulged than they (‘Whistle And I’ll Come To You…’ reminds me, chiefly, of …Trail Of Dead at their murkiest). Guilty Parents are shooting for the eccentric and obtuse on these five songs, and they largely succeed, but I have a hunch that the potential audience for this puzzlingly catchy psych-punk is larger than they give themselves credit for.
Rounding us off in a groovily circular fashion, jittery late-Seventies melodic punk with keyboards and glam-rock flourishes – specifically the two studio albums by The Boys, which have been reissued by Fire with bonus flimflam and nice cardboard sleeves. No less august an authority than ‘an Amazon customer reviewer’ reckons that if The Boys (1977) and Alternative Chartbusters (1978) had emerged just after the new millennium, The Boys would have been as big as The Strokes – which rather overlooks the fact that in reality, they were trading at the same time as The Ramones, the Buzzcocks and The Jam, with whom they toured. Despite warranting comparison to any of these, and as such playing about the trendiest music possible at the time, it never quite fell into place for the London quintet.
The canon (remember that old bugger?) has welcomed in lots of bands who did pretty much the same thing as The Boys, who have rather cruelly been left below with a sump of second-raters. Cruelly, because their approximately hour-long catalogue includes several legit bangers. The Boys starts with a rework of ‘Sick On You’, written by pre-Boys glam combo Hollywood Brats, and a Beatles cover, but ‘Tumble With Me’, ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘Tenement Kids’ are faster than anything on Never Mind The Bollocks, and a closer approximation of the “77 punk = Chuck Berry played by pimply white boys” notion. Actually, it’s more like a Cheap Trick LP played at 45, but if you have a problem with that, I don’t think we can be friends.
In common with every other first wave punk band’s second album, Alternative Chartbusters is a bit less frantic than the debut; although there are still ample pogo catalysts, like ‘Do The Contract’ and ‘Not Ready’, over fourteen songs The Boys tentatively explore new styles. These include ‘Heroine’, a brass-bolstered ballad with that plasticky gravitas later found on the second half of several Britpop albums; and a version of Mexican mambo number ‘Sway’, made famous by Dean Martin, in which someone shouts “oh you greasy wop!” during the bridge. Neither of these albums are totems of progressive politics: ‘Tumble With Me’, ‘USI’ and ‘Classified Susie’ collectively imply a world where irresistible sex symbols The Boys are tempted and troubled by the charms of myriad slatterns. This did also give us ‘Backstage Pass’, a song about staying loyal to a punk rock groupie, and specifically the lyric “You’ve had all The Jam / Even Paul’s old man / In their brand new Mercedes van.” So, there’s that.