Straight Hedge: Punk & Hardcore For July By Noel Gardner
, July 5th, 2016 07:48
Noel Gardner only has one problem - finding the space to fit in all of the reviews into this column that he wants. But enough with the flexi discs already
Summer 2016, in which popular activities are set to include sticking your head on spin cycle until dishevelled, discombobulated and cleansed; primal screaming along to aural attacks on those who make this world dull, venal and mediocre; and giving small parts of your precarious income to righteous humans in exchange for the fruits of their creativity. I tell ya – not that it’s ever much trouble finding stuff for this column, but I could have filled it twice over with relevant bangers from the last two or three months. The ten bands who I have reviewed should thus be extra honoured to appear here, rather than ignoring it or subtweeting me or writing songs about killing me with their big fucking dick, as I expect will happen.
Most of the contenders this issue are releasing their debuts, and on a number of occasions I’ve gone from being effectively unaware of their existence to knee-slapping pulse-increasing excitement, in a matter of minutes. A tip-off about Glaswegian four-piece Anxiety smashing it when they played in London was scant preparation for their LP, which La Vida Es Un Mus Records just dropped and which is utterly essential noise-drenched hardcore magnificence. Frontman Michael Kasparis is also a member of the otherwise London-based The Lowest Form, giving him high form in the noise-drenched hardcore magnificence department, but makes his bow as a punk vocalist and passes with distinction – deranged, slobbering and animalistic, but with mostly discernable words.
Other parts of the Anxiety jigsaw link to Pennycress (a riot grrrl-ish punk band whose singer, Kate, joined Joanna Gruesome last year) and the various names under which bassist Kay Logan has made music. These don’t necessarily explain why/how Anxiety sounds the way it does, but underlines that its members are wholly disinterested in serving up hardcore orthodoxy. ‘Dark And Wet’ opens the record up like a boxcutter, screeching feedback-as-riffs meshing with bovversome pogopunk drumming; if I’d been told that this was another band from New York’s relentlessly fertile Toxic State Records scene, I’d not have questioned it for a second.
‘Addicted To Punishment’ and, especially, ‘The Worst’ are no-brakes anthems of singalongable self-hatred, while the gothic pall that consumes ‘Delayed’ doesn’t soften its innate thump. ‘Sewer In My Mind’ starts off as gabbling, hysterical 1983-style thrash – Koro or someone like that – before cycling into a creepy crawl breakdown that somehow echoes the Cro-Mags and the Birthday Party at the same time. And the junked-up industrial throb that lurks amidst the previous eight songs finally bursts out on ‘VMD’, which sticks a polonium-tipped fork in this 20-minute ripper and suggests that Anxiety could do any number of things next, and any number of them brilliant.
The option of rooting around in the backgrounds of Berlin’s amazingly named Heavy Metal, in an effort to give their remarkable debut album context, has been closed to me. There’s zero useful info out there, and it doesn’t look like it’s gonna be given up easily, so let’s work with what’s on Anti-Music, Anti-Sense, Anti-You (Static Age). Vocals are curled-lip, dropped-aitch southern English, part Billy Childish and part Johnny Rotten. I thought I heard a German twang in there, for example on ‘Ben Kingsley’ wherein they posit that the British acting titan is going to have sexual relations with your mother (Heavy Metal could be in hot water if Kingsley hears this, for not addressing him as ‘Sir’), but also just read that the singer dude is Welsh, so let’s just roll with whatever. They continue with a cover of ‘Crazy Horses’ and, against the odds, then get even stupider, and more conceptually delicious.
The flavourful pan scrapings of 1977 UK punk’s most blunderful dumdums are hailed on ‘Angry Note’ (which features a Curb Your Enthusiasm sample for no apparent reason) and ‘Would You Adam And Eve It?’ (which features a Fisher-Price keyboard solo for the ages). ‘Simple Things’ is like pre-success Sleaford Mods meets Subhumans meets Flipper, grindingly repetitious herbert belligerence. ‘Rock Around The Clock’ is not a cover. Electronics are used intermittently, and with as little finesse as guitars, ‘Don’t Call Me Brother’ causing you to feel (a) Heavy Metal’s distilled fury and (b) like yer medication’s starting to kick in. Unlike Anxiety, it would be right and proper if Heavy Metal never released any more music or played live, and left this album as improbable proof that people can still make mysterious idiot savant outsider music in an instant-info social media era. And yet… this is too good to just leave it there.
Towel, a three-woman band who formed in Bristol last year, have certain elements in common with Heavy Metal (that works as a pun, kinda). Anger is an energy, as is Humour In Music which is actually funny, as are keyboards which sound like they might short-circuit the entire building; Wipe Me Dry, Towel’s self-released cassette, teems with all these things. There are no stringed instruments on this recording, just keys and drums and vocals, and it would be clownish to think these beeps and clatters and hollers might be improved by a bit of ‘axe action’, or indeed any other helpful suggestions you might have.
Self-described “misandrist power hype”, anyone expecting Wipe Me Dry to be a one-note barrage of anti-male invective might be disappointed. Towel favour a sloganeering style of lyric writing – main vocalist Rosa Martyn tends to repeat lines or phrases until the precise moment their potency has been wrung out – and ‘Wind Yr Neck In’ may have been written with individual men in mind, but works just fine as a hit job on their trash tendencies in general. To my ears, and for the little that’s worth, this feels very much like a pro-women collection of songs, specifically the women in Towel. Quite right too, cos this tape is a blast. FOR FANS OF: Teddy And The Frat Girls, Skinned Teen, not being a dork who has to list obscure bands to make up for his descriptive deficiencies.
Punk, feminism and synthesisers triangulate once more on Sheffield band Nachthexen’s debut seven-inch (released by Kids Of The Lughole), giving me the opportunity to make a song and dance about how electric guitars are stupid and smelly and for narcissists despite them actually being one of my favourite inventions of the 20th century. Or – better still – to big up this band for fashioning a sound which has all the steel-jawed snap and embittered wit of modern British DIY punk, plus sleek & danceable synth action, without these two things detracting from each other.
Emma Thacker’s vocals are satisfyingly Yorkshire-broad, her lyrics varying between wanker hand motions and shrugs of despondency. ‘Drunk Lads’ is about running the gauntlet of morons who’ve stumbled upon (I’m guessing) one of Sheffield’s laudable DIY spaces; ‘Ring Ring’, which opens the EP and is like Adult. if they came from the same city as LFO rather than Model 500, is a bombastic paean to “isolat[ing] yourself”. Nachthexen’s spirit is encapsulated in the twelve words which comprise the lyrics to ‘Cheer Up Luv’: “Cheer up luv, it might never happen... BUT WHAT IF IT DOES?” This record would have made the world a marginally better place, is what.
Berlin, which I heard you talking about “maybe moving to before it’s too late, right,” makes its second showing in this column, courtesy of residents Cuntroaches – a name inexplicably unused throughout the history of bands, orchestras, any grouping of people really. Certainly, I feel the bible would be considered more relevant if the twelve disciples of Jesus had been known as ‘The Cuntroaches’, but as it is the mantle’s been taken up by two women and a bloke making ferociously warped hardcore-flecked no wave, and whose debut demo has just been released on tape by the SixSixSixties label.
Mutating waves of feedback intoxicate and induce hangovers at once, while David Hantelius gets a frankly obscene sound out of his bass and vocals, reverbed to an absurd degree, approach black metal levels of demonic witchery (‘I Tell Ya’ is exhibit A in this regard). As with New York’s no wave OGs, what it’s definitely not is inept pissing around, ‘noise for noise’s sake’ as a boring person might say – no matter how blown-out and violent Cuntroaches get, their interplay is lithe, their arrangements measured. If you’re familiar with Wolf Eyes’ 2006 cover of D-beat specialists No Fucker, and thought that niche should be explored by more groups, you should definitely check this tape.
I’d be surprised if London’s Primetime had especially strong commercial ambitions as a band, given the gap of almost two years between their first single and Going Places (La Vida Es Un Mus), its four-song follow-up. A keen pop sensibility pervades all their songs, though, a type which feels like it could resonate with a wide (and ‘unpunk’) audience rather than being inevitably limited to a few hundred people. Their obvious reference points are female, or female-vocalled, post punk bands of the early 80s – Au Pairs, Girls At Our Best, Kleenex – but Primetime add a welcome dash of powerpop breeze.
On the evidence of ‘Anyway’, I’d be surprised (again – second-guessing people’s tastes and desires on the basis of nine minutes of their music is great fun!) if there wasn’t a latent Elastica fandom in the band somewhere, but it’s lead-off number ‘Pervert’ that, to date, represents Primetime in their prime. A celebration, rather than a denunciation, of perversion, it’s a unicorn-rare thing – a punk song that’s unambiguously sex-positive, rather than fraught with doubt or ill feeling – and offers multiple chances to yell its title. A sterling EP made extra appealing by its sleeve art’s resemblance to the first Adrian Mole book – it might be coincidental, but I’d be surprised.
What potential Martha have to blow up, sell out the scene and make a damn mockery of both their website address and Facebook URL is, for now, unfulfilled. ‘St Paul’s (Westerberg Comprehensive)’, the closing song on the Durham band’s second album Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart (Fortuna Pop), sings of a “broken ladder of success” and seems to be both an obtuse tribute to The Replacements (themselves a cautionary tale for punk rock bands with starry ambitions) and “kids who had the guts to be queer at school,” in the band’s own words. As lateral lyrical thinking goes, it’s considerably affecting, and typifies a great album that marks out Martha as one of the best quote-unquote indie bands around right now.
Blisters, in its execution, isn’t markedly different to Courting Strong, Martha’s 2014 debut album: romantic, oddly nostalgic songs which jangle cutely and rock robustly. It’s superior on every level, though, and finds the quartet stepping out of what one might imagine to be their comfort zone; witness the almost highlife-styled guitar on ‘Do Whatever’ and the, er, axe action on the seven-minute ‘Do Nothing’ (there’s a thematic link, I believe). At various points this album reminds me of Thin Lizzy, Kenickie, Weezer, The Wedding Present, Tony Molina, J Church and Kirsty MacColl, most of whom are being mentioned in this column for the first time; Martha are as joyously tricky to compartmentalise as the queer kids they toast in song. Fiercely literate, steadfastly principled, flatly northeastern when they sing and capable of dropping lines which are both funny and moving, this is a band which could mean an awful lot to an awful lot of people.
“Hit a baby and its mama / Put ‘em both in a coma,” claim Rubber Mate on ‘Car Crash’, the shortest and fastest song on debut 45 Rub ‘Em All (Saucepan). The chances of the reviewer holding them up as an inspirational model for would-be woke punk teens hangs in the balance. “They’re braindead like me / All I can do is laugh.” Well, now that’s settled, we can celebrate this grubby five-tracker for being an excellent example of bottom-feeding hardcore-rooted noiserock. From Cleveland, Rubber Mate seem in the tradition of bands from said city like the Darvocets and Homostupids: sloppy, goofy, cheaply-recorded dirges that might inspire dangerously large objects to be thrown across the room when turned out live. Fair to assume they’re familiar with noise rock’s progenitors, the Drunks With Guns and Bobby Soxxes of this foul world – folks who really did live the chaos their music inferred. Are Rubber Mate anything like as Real, and if not aren’t songs about getting stabbed and licking toilet floors a little bit… poserish? Maybe, but equally I’m not sure that a band who sing “Drinking beer with Satan / Yeah he’s my pal” (on the closing, loosely psychedelic freak-thud ‘I’m Living In Hell’) are truly out to convince listeners of their evilness.
The fourth and final band of this dispatch who I would have featured in my noise rock in ‘16 special the other month, had I been aware of their existence, are Leecher. Another Glaswegian ensemble, they feature two members of the late, lamented and comparably abrasive Divorce, but while Divorce took a no wavey, artful, halogen-strobed approach to noise rock, Leecher’s I’m All Wet tape (self-released) is slow and lumpen, sounding tarnished by sludge metal and the log-stacking grunge of Tad. The vocals of Tony Kelly, on loan from bonzer fast hardcore merchants Clocked Out (for whom he plays bass, and who are possibly in hibernation at the moment), are the kind of menacing grumble you’ll have heard many times before if you listen to much music like this, but he’s still a big part of Leecher’s effectiveness. His enunciation of “HANG – YOUR – HEAD” on ‘Arboretum’ even had me wondering if it was a Gravediggaz tribute, before he snarls through ‘Public Louse’ with the abandon that a song called ‘Public Louse’ warrants.
Finally, a jaunt to Sweden with the help of a label in Nottingham, to reappraise Paranoid, whose blistering LP of metallic D-beat Satyagraha I included in my top 20 releases of last year. It’s since been reissued by Southern Lord, and no I’m not suggesting these two things are linked, before you start. Punkdemonium Hell, a four-song seven-inch, is also a quick-turnaround reissue – previously issued on flexidisc in late 2015 (and I must say, seeing bands going to the bother of pressing this stupid format gives me an idea of how most of the world feels about cassettes), the Viral Age label have now given it a stiffer second life. It’s got less apocalyptametal feel than Satyagraha, but the dentist’s-drill rawpunk guitars and ballistic snare rolls are very much present, as are the Japanese song titles despite none of the members coming from Japan. The exception being a brisk, faithful cover of ‘Nightmare Or Reality’ by Disclose, who actually were from Japan. Oh Paranoid, you oddly brilliant metal thrashin’ berks.