Straight Hedge! Punk Reviews For November By Noel Gardner
, November 7th, 2016 10:05
Noel Gardner is back with punk, hardcore, d-beat, oi & OMFUG releases galore to review
None of the records covered in this column exist in a vacuum, even those which sound like they were recorded inside the dust bag of one. Any musical act must saddle the burden of a social context – more so, in a way, if they attempt to disassociate from the ghastly globe on which they squat. All the same, I don’t wish to spend too much time here fretting about the question of whether punk can be threatening or challenging to authority on any sort of wider scale.
It’s been talked to death over the decades and feels like a bit of a ‘panel discussion at the ICA’ topic at this point; an unearned sop to the sort of person who thinks that punk was a failed project because it wasn’t personally responsible for overthrowing any governments. To the extent that its ideology is coherent enough to be influential, I feel that influence is murky and insidious, in a good way. Treating others how you’d wish to be treated, personal autonomy, a healthy respect for money without price-gouging, questioning received wisdom… one can learn all these things without exposure to punk, but punk certainly isn’t the worst guiding light you could have.
What to do, though, when its self-limitation palls – when you have cause to consider that no matter how righteous the message of this ripper DIY band you’re listening to, its audience is essentially limited to a few hundred – maybe a few thousand – people who probably think much like you do? Well, maybe this would be a good time to throw on What Do You See? (Toxic State), the debut seven-inch by Haram from New York. Not that their reach currently extends much beyond that of their scuzzball hardcore peers (Crazy Spirit et al), but they’re fronted by a Lebanese American, Nader Habibi, who sings in Arabic. This is an instant stand-out factor in a country where a punk band singing in Spanish is still moderately novel, despite there being forty million native speakers within the borders.
Seems that the FBI also took an interest in Haram’s mode of communication, grilling Habibi and members of his family a few months back as part of an investigation into the band’s “possible ties to ISIS and radical preaching”. As much as it’s instinctive to be thrilled at some grody, obscure HC group skeeving out the feds, this being an exercise in blatant racial profiling with zero apparent purpose aside from intimidation dials down the cool edginess a notch.
Aiding piggy badge-flashers and earnest reviewers alike, What Do You See?’s four songs have their lyrics printed in Arabic and English on the sleeve (which is beautiful in a totally different way to how Toxic State sleeves are usually beautiful, and kinda reminds me of old Mo’Wax graphics). They are terse and unflinching, Discharge-compact tweet-length portraits of war and blood and bullets which Habibi delivers in a gloriously grotesque snarl. Haram’s herbertish clatter, jerking like a marionette operated by a speedfreak, seems pat and basic on first listen (this certainly applied to their demo tape, which came out in late 2015 and is nowhere near as good) but there are myriad neat musical touches here: the metal guitar break which enlivens ‘Blood’, the creepy NYHC breakdown on ‘Put It In Your Head’ and the slinky goth tones of the closing ‘What Is This Hell?’. You can listen to Haram because you think their presence in the scene might be Important, if you like, or because you have room in your life for more raging pogo mania steeped in early/mid-80s Japan, Italy and Bristol. You’re free to choose.
Haram’s words are effective because of their brevity: modern atrocities compressed into airless snapshots. Mommy, another newish NYC band on Toxic State, do the opposite on Songs About Children, their painfully vivid debut LP. This is a concept record of sorts about the childhood of vocalist Mike Caiazzo, but don’t be like me and half-anticipate a 2K10s version of Happy Flowers, authors of ‘Mom, I Gave The Cat Some Acid’ and suchlike. These songs, according to Caiazzo, all deal with an early adolescence typified by dysfunctional or absent family members, time in juvenile mental institutions, neglect and death.
Delivered in a throaty, orc-like cackle over plug-ugly noisepunk with no guitar and punctuated by equally cheerless sampled dialogue, Songs About Children is a triumphantly uncomfortable statement. There are no jokes here, but you may find the matter-of-fact rundown of a life lost to AIDS in ‘NY Presbyterian’ so grim that it circles the entire spectrum around to black humour.
Caiazzo, or his teenage self, is not panhandling for sympathy here, portrayed as a spiteful shit on ‘How To Act At Funerals’ (“I couldn’t cry for their ugly son / I don’t think I cared about any of them”) and solipsistically unreasonable on ‘No More Fathers’ (“Every father should be in jail, they never help their kids / I wake up every morning happy that mine is”). Everything about this record – the lyrics, the recording, the poster insert, the labels being stuck on the wrong sides of the vinyl – is a full-scale bummer, one which makes me feel very grateful on a number of levels.
Although Liquids’ debut album Hot Liqs (Drunken Sailor) features a song titled ‘I Killed Donald Trump’ [Downgraded to 'I Killed DT' by time of publication, Ed], this Northwest Indiana band appear to have escaped the notice of domestic security officials at the time of writing. Who can say why? Granted, it’s the closest Liquids come to engaging with the American political landscape on these 16 songs, which are short, sharp nasal chunters laid down with unfussy fidelity and a baitbox of earworms.
Apart from Mat Williams, who writes the songs, it’s undisclosed who’s actually in this band, but smart money has to be on someone from fellow Indiana punx the Coneheads, as a number of songs here have that exact same remedial rockabilly rubberband twang. Liquids also turn their hand to powerpop (‘Head Meat’, ‘Heart Beats True’), Oi!-on-45 fistshakers (‘World Of Shit’), nihilistic evocations of early Jay Reatard and The Queers’ enthusiasm for writing songs laughing at their friends’ misfortune (‘Brandon’s In Jail’). A lot of the weirder NWI scene bands have their unobtainable tapes uploaded to YouTube, and you really don’t need to hear all of them, but Hot Liqs is very much skimmed cream.
If Girlschool had moved to LA around the start of their career and signed to Dangerhouse Records, they would sound like Miss Destiny, and if that doesn’t strike you as the flyest possible recommendation then keep scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling until I’m confident your dead eyes won’t suck the goodness out of any of the other bands I’ve lined up to review, just by reading about them. Miss Destiny come from Melbourne, have done a single other single (released on HoZac) prior to this eponymous LP (released on Agitated in Europe, RIP Society back home) and, having replaced their token male member (Brett Bevege) with a fourth gal (Emily Jans, also of raging hardcore mob Straitjacket Nation) for this recording only, she’s since stepped aside for a second dude (Kirk Scotcher, also of raging hardcore mob Kromosom).
Dry parenthetical info dispatched, chew on a contender for r & r record of 2016. Vocalist Harriet Hudson has also served in Sydney band Circle Pit, who were invariably compared to Royal Trux; while she wasn’t their vocalist, there’s a fair whack of Jennifer Herrema in her rasping, scornful delivery. Tempo is brisk ten times out of ten – ‘The One’ also featured on their seven-inch, and is substantially faster and better here – and, in addition to the ripples of NWOBHM and early wave Cali punk, Miss Destiny is oddly remindful of The Didjits, and others in that rash of rawk-happy, oft-chauvinist metal-tinged garage bands from the early 90s.
“The only thing worse than law... is order / Watch out cuz I’ve got something for ya,” while being a chorus that could have rocketed from the loins of anyone previously invoked, is in fact sung by Hudson on ‘Law & Order’, and is indicative of this album’s pitch-perfect dumb genius. Please come and tour the UK, Miss Destiny! It might somehow not be a fascist cesspit by the time you arrive.
Scrap Brain’s demo tape couldn’t be described as a good time exactly, unless you’d given your life over to the pursuit of glibness: the lyrics to ‘BPD’, one of its five songs, illustrate life with a personality disorder via a series of oxymoronic couplets (“Acting out to isolate yourself / acting out to make people care”). Inside seven minutes, though, the London four-piece’s malformed hardcore dirge manages to be funny and exciting, and yet more evidence that the capital is a currently matchless punk rock incubator for reasons other than merely being very big. ‘Sad Song’ opens with a triumph of lateral thinking, a lyrical riff on infamous happy hardcore Beatles desecration ‘Ravers Choice 6’; ‘Ain’t No Jemble Bastard’ is a Discharge song title reappropriated to razz ‘jembles’, a subcategory of awful men who are overly mannered and patronising to women. (Scrap Brain vocalist Camille Rearden also plays in Towel, who I reviewed two columns back and who also sing about this sort of thing.) Creepy crawl basslines, jarring shifts from slow grind to whipping quickness and vocals cranked in the mix for max impact: if you like Good Throb, or the two twelve-inches Oakland’s Violence Creeps have released in 2016, you don’t want to skip Scrap Brain.
Es are linked to Scrap Brain via Tamsin, the drummer, and various other bands in various states of dormancy including Primetime. Their first release, a four-song twelve-inch titled Object Relations (La Vida Es Un Mus), bins guitars off and promotes wobbly Delia Derbyshire synths, making for an arresting eleven minutes of cold wave straight fire. Bass and drums are, uh, organic – music might be the only medium where that word is more useless than with food – but provide a rigid frame for Maria Tedemalm to kick up a cloud of drama dust on the mic. “Everything is fine!” she yells on ‘Everything Is Fine’, in a manner suggesting it really isn’t; ‘Seagulls’ may actually be about seagulls, notably their tendency to steal one’s chips. Hitting peak paranoia with ‘Deinstag’ (“they’re onto me – it’s over!”), the vocals, and their prominence, might be a dealbreaker for cold wave heads who like their vocalists more restrained and demure. That’s not me.
The first incarnation of New York’s Warthog was known as Chain Wallet, which has apparently endured to the point where it’s the preferred name among True Fans of the band. I can see why, as it’s much better (there’s also now a wack Norwegian indie band called Chain Wallet), but if Warthog neither promise or deliver a startlingly original outlook, they provide plenty of HC gristle to guzzle. Their fourth and latest seven-inch, jointly released by Static Shock and Beach Impediment, drives a vigorous wedge between ultra-noisy peers like Haram – for example – and slightly sweeter-natured sorts who might not deny the existence of melody.
Vocalist Chris Hansell is probably their gnarliest element, kicking off ‘Culture?’ (love that question mark) with a disgusted UGH!! and marking himself out as a hardcore frontman in the classic American vein – indeed, you may remember him from The Men, on whose earlier, noisier releases he sang. The band barrel along behind him with catchy metal leads and infectious ferocity, verging on crossover territory for EP concluder ‘Coward’. Your reaction to me telling you that Warthog is “simply great hardcore” should inform you as to whether you need to hear this or not.
Your (sic) columnist’s most mental weekend of 2016 to date was in Salford at the end of June, when Destruction Unit mashed up the Islington Mill and were so loud that no-one talked about Brexit for, oh, about twelve hours. First on the bill that evening were Bloody Head, a Nottingham band given to pavement-licking shit-fi punk sludge. They were great, not least because the singer threw his shoes away Hank Scorpio style during their set. Hard to actually improve on the promoters’ description, “sounds like payday in a tarmacers’ pub”, but Bloody Head now have an album-length tape out, so I can talk about that.
July 16 features, among the BH quartet, Andrew Morgan from Endless Grinning Skulls (it’s his Viral Age label this is released on, too) and Henry Davies of Moloch. It’s as not-sorry noisy as anything those bands have shared, but in a contemporary British context is more primed to appeal to fans of bands like Drunk In Hell, Foot Hair and Casual Sect – occasionally sloppy & speedy (‘Gilded Turds’), more often a slow, lumpen trashpile of lowball riffs stabbing through the din as crudely as the illustration of an anthropomorphic knife that adorns the cassette cover. Can’t really shed much light on what Dave Bevan’s singing about, but he definitely mentions “useless dickheads” on the Brainbombs-alike slate-grey psych of ‘Fierce Joy’, and there’s a tasty number called ‘The Pope’s Head Is The Same Shape As His Hat’.
Now that there’s (for the sake of argument) forty years of punk to play with, a lot of new stuff gets accused of being wilfully retro, or an effort to evoke a time and place its creators never experienced. Often, this isn’t completely fair – there’s a finite combination of chords and subjects and signifiers available – and other times, you encounter a band who leave you agog at their audacity. Rotten UK are in the latter category, hysterical and absurd Sealed Knot-on-glue cartoon punx whose masterstroke is getting their reenactment of the early-80s Brit mohawk scene a bit wrong. They’ve been doing the rounds for a few years, but have found an unlikely home for debut album That Is Not Dead... in metal label Hells Headbangers, and you’ll be fine starting right here.
What exactly makes Rotten UK so daft? Well for a start, they’re not actually from the UK but Rochester in upstate New York – vocalist James Honsinger was in Blüdwulf, a trashy metal band from the town. Their Facebook page lists their home town as “Rochester, UK”, making them the first people ever to pretend to come from there. They’re an aesthetic disarray of leather (possibly pleather, going on the song ‘Animal Sacrifice’), studs, fishnets and bondage – equal parts Riot City and Batcave, with a fistful of pogopunk-meets-goth bangers to suit. And they haven’t even flinched on the lyrics! ‘Waiting For The Bomb’ is about nuclear paranoia (“Cold war, cold shoulder, who’s the enemy?”), ‘Royal Blood’ about the monarchy (“Ignorant doppelgangers / sucking marrow from the bones of the working lower class” – emphasis mine). “Thatcher Thatcher Reagan Reagan / it’s all happening again!” barks Honsinger on the oompah-beat beast ‘Their Dreams’; I’m not sure he’s even thinking of a hypothetical May/Trump alliance here.
When the British music press started writing about Rancid for the first time, twentysomething years ago, they made them sound a bit like Rotten UK actually do sound. There was never much UK82 or anarcho about Rancid, and it feels a bit strange pondering whether a band of that ilk could maybe get kinda big, but That Is Not Dead... has an insane amount of hooks and a worldview that might connect in grim times.
Which brings us neatly to my traditional reissue at the end of the column, except this time I’m prising open a cobwebbed casket, or something like that. Yep, this is Killed By Deathrock Vol. 2, the Sacred Bones label’s second compilation of 1980s gothic obscurities. Named in reference to Killed By Death, the infamous bootleg series compiling collectible punk singles, it seems reasonable to assume that many who once suckled at the KBD teat have since developed a taste for goth and postpunk as the hipness FTSE zigs and zags. Suits me, all told: sure, there are issues one can take with the reissue! repackage! reevaluate! culture which allows things like this album to exist, but I’d rather kick aside a few bushels of chaff than have tonnes of wheat locked up where no-one can consume it. If you get me.
The ten songs on Vol. 2 are international in origin, although the UK and US are most heavily represented, and cover a broad spectrum of goth styles, ‘Waiting For The War’, by Danish band ADS, isn’t far off Rotten UK in its hectic punk belligerence; fellow Danes Gatecrashers open the album with ‘Spectator’, a fairground joyride of manic keyboards. You might know Brit-goth stalwarts Skeletal Family, who feature with the bombastic ‘Promised Land’, or Middle Class, who helped invent hardcore with 1978’s ‘Out Of Vogue’ but affect a slower glower on ‘A Skeleton At The Feast’ four years later. The back end of the comp loosens up in various alluring ways: disco-punk with killer tom rolls (Crank Call Love Affair, ‘What’s Wrong Yvette’); itchy nerdlinger DIY postpunk (Red Zebra, ‘I Can’t Live In A Living Room’) and heavy-lidded minimal synth ethereality (Vita Noctis, ‘Hade’). Little of this album is ‘deathrock’ as defined by the strictest genre gatekeepers, but the Killed By Death compilers didn’t wet their pants over the difference between punk and hardcore, and neither should you.