Straight Hedge: The Best Punk & HC Of 2016 With Noel Gardner
, December 5th, 2016 10:10
Noel Gardner brings you his top ten punk and hardcore records of the year and another top ten of juicy cuts he missed the first time round
There’s that thing people say, you’ve probably heard it: “Every year’s the best year for music!” And the reasoning behind it – that, in addition to whatever was released within the confines of the Gregorian calendar, we as a species also have access to everything that came beforehand – is broadly sound. It does, however, elide the fact that many people actually want to, y’know, engage with contemporary culture, and that not everyone’s lifestyle allows them to (cough) ‘preview’ dozens of albums online until they find one they like.
Out there in the grown-up world of rock critic list harvesting, early indications are that 2016’s consensus albums are mostly going to be by dead people, acts with professional careers of twenty years or longer, and acts whose previous album formed part of a similar consensus. None of which should count against anyone concerned, individually, but taken as a whole it looks moribund, and bordering on a closed shop. (If 2016 has taught us anything, it might be that statements about polls made with certainty a month in advance are unwise. What 2016 has also confirmed, though, is that someone writing about end of year album lists on a website is of so little importance in the scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if they end up being wrong.)
Punk rock and hardcore, the DIY or otherwise underground kind, doesn’t seem to put that much stock in what year it is. It has done in the past, largely to portray the music as a new broom: The Clash’s ‘1977’ is the originator, but DOA’s Hardcore ‘81 and Zero Boys’ ‘Livin’ In The 80s’, for example, followed the same pattern. There’s no longer really enough new under the sun, stylistically, for these kind of bold gambits to work – which isn’t to say that the stack of 2016 releases I’ve assembled here aren’t throbbing with individuality and personality.
Release schedules at this level tend to be fairly haphazard, or at least determined by when something’s ready rather than extraneous market concerns, and a lot of short-run items are only actively available for a brief period. As such, I’ve done a top ten culled from the five Straight Hedges this year, which you can go and read about in the individual columns ta very much, plus another ten which I missed first time round, in alphabetical rather than preferential order. Some of them might have approached ‘consensus’ status, albeit in very self-contained and echoey spheres; some appear destined to remain unsung no matter what superlatives I barf up; all of them are examples of why there’s NEVER any reason to grow out of this shit while you’re still privileged enough to be able to consume it.
Looking forward momentarily, what are experts predicting punk to have in store for 2017? Well, that tons of sick releases will come out at about the same frequency as 2016, with many delayed for months by Record prick Store twat Day. Some hyped bands from North America will do UK tours comprising three dates, none anywhere near me. There will probably/hopefully be another Static Shock Weekend late in the year, as awesome and physically draining as the previous two. The ‘40 years of punk!!’ carry-on that London was treated to for much of this year will spread to the provinces, in the same way that first wave punk did in 1977, and will be mostly boring but pretty easy to ignore.
As for the most obvious Hardcore ‘17 question, about whether the current American president elect is going to inspire a wave of flat black plastic hatred akin to what Reagan did for US punk in his first term (you can apply this to the UK post-Brexit too, if you think anything is actually going to happen in the next 12 months that could be conveyed in a protest song)… I mean this stuff is fun to think about, in a fiddling-while-Rome-burns kinda way, but when you have no idea what unholy hell will actually come to pass, how can you forecast the response? More people, especially voices of supposed authority, admitting they don’t know shit would be one positive response in these times. And with that, here are two lists from me, a guy who knows just enough about punk and hardcore to write a column on it for a music and culture website.
NOEL’S STRAIGHT HEDGE TOP TEN OF 2016
TEN: The Repos – Poser
NINE: Savage Realm – Nocturnal Savagery
EIGHT: Triage – Power Beat
SEVEN: Nachthexen – Nachthexen
(Kids Of The Lughole)
SIX: Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart
FIVE: Cold Meat – Sweet Treats
FOUR: No Negative – The Good Never Comes
(Psychic Handshake / Swollen City)
THREE: Surge – Avalanche
(Dogs And Vultures)
TWO: Miss Destiny – Miss Destiny
(Agitated / RIP Society)
ONE: Anxiety – Anxiety
(La Vida Es Un Mus)
NOEL’S STRAIGHT HEDGE TOP TEN LEFTOVERS
Dauđyflin – Drepa Drepa
(Erste Theke Tonträger)
Not that it’s a fair fight, given the population differences, but Iceland lags some way behind its Nordic neighbours when it comes to production of punk and hardcore bands. This year, though, they’ve gifted us Dauđyflin, four women from Reykjavik whose debut EP is an in-the-red revelation. Alexandra Ingvarsdóttir is a tornado of a vocalist, not dissimilar to La Misma’s Nadine Rosario; her bandmates exploit the ever-potent thrill of pogo beats and distortion, only so much as slightly slowing down for ‘Elthrellir’, the last of five songs. Drepa Drepa appears to have flown under most people’s radars, but should be mandatory listening for anyone who buys the Toxic State label’s output on the regular.
The Flexibles – Pink Everything
One album of wildly distorted jerry-built synth rhythms and off-the-dome ranting by a parent-child combo would be enough for most calendar years. This one gave us two: Id Vendor by Yeah You from Newcastle and this equally inspired LP by Glasgow trio The Flexibles, who include experimental mainstay Richard Youngs and his son Sorley on vocals. Somewhere between six and eight years old at the time of recording, Sorley is without question Pink Everything’s most valuable asset, spinning elaborate scenarios about space (an idealised version akin to Sun Ra’s or Dave Brock’s), wrestling and the versatility of colour. “Pink fish, pink frog, pink ball, pink skateboard, PINK EVERYTHING. ANYTHING CAN BE PINK.” An assertion closer to being objectively true, I feel, than “anything can be punk”, but if you group UKDIY, Suicide and Half Japanese under that umbrella – and why wouldn’t you? – then The Flexibles are the distilled essence of it.
Good Throb – Good Throb
(La Vida Es Un Mus)
Assuming, while one of its members lives in another hemisphere, that this is the final Good Throb record, it confirms their legacy (an album, three singles and a few stray things on cassettes) as under one hour of incredibly sharp commentary, and reward for time invested on the listener’s part. I tend to forget that they originally formed with each member playing an instrument they had no prior experience of – not because this varnish-free punk band turned into musical slick dicks (one of this EP’s four songs is called ‘Slick Dicks’; the lyrics include the phrase “flirty mooncup”, which will be a Googlewhack on publication of this article), Ashleigh Holland’s bass somehow sounds like it’s amplified but not actually plugged in, but because every element sounds ineffably attuned to the others.
As such, these songs sound like Good Throb because they could only sound like Good Throb, but are slightly weirder and more discordant than what came before. ‘Scum’ graduates from seasick swirling noise to martial anarcho stridency; ‘The Queen Sucks Nazi Cock’ is about how the Queen, Elizabeth II the Queen of England, sucks the Nazi cock of her husband of 69 years (depicted on the front cover, philtrum quivering as the vinegar strokes approach); and ‘Welcome Break’ is a staccato-rhythmed Ballardian sexualisation of the British motorway service station. Ellie Roberts is one of the best lyricists this island has coughed up in the last ten years and Good Throb are… I hesitate to say ‘important’ because assessing bands’ ‘importance’ is a mug’s game, but they mean more to me than 99% of other music from the same timeframe.
Kohti Tuhoa – Rutiinin Orja
This album, the debut full-length by Finnish foursome Kohti Tuhoa, has already been honoured with coverage in the non-ghettoised reviews section of this website, but several months on I wish to reiterate (less eloquently) that it slams. Rooted in D-beat, crust and rawpunk soil, Rutiinin Orja lasts just 16 minutes in its original form, applying zero brakes as ballistic snare rolls and histronic solos crash past and Helena Hiltunen hollers like she’s fixing to uppercut someone through a ceiling. Southern Lord’s CD reissue of Svart’s autumn ‘15 LP release adds the six songs from Kohti Tuhoa’s debut single, which is pretty much as blazing as its bigger sibling, with a little more metallic chug.
Let It Die – The Liar And The Saint
Let It Die come from Kettering and play the kind of autocratically powerful grind-influenced hardcore that has had both a good and bad 2016: Nails and Weekend Nachos, two of its best known proponents, both released crunching albums before promptly breaking up. This album, LID’s debut following a few seven-inches and demos, actually enlists Weekend Nachos vocalist John Hoffman for one song (‘Punish‘), inviting observers cornier than I to suggest a passing of the torch or similar. They’re certainly worthy of wider acclaim: The Liar And The Saint comes correct with death metal-tarred vocals from Red Sismey, a lead-lined production job by the drummer Alex Smith and lyrics containing as much sour misanthropy as you could want with a sprinkle of bonus Latin. Plus, at the moment they can disband whenever they like without upsetting a record label.
Patsy – Eat It
Two-thirds of New Orleans’ Patsy also play in Mystic Inane, a bizarro-HC combo who lots of other people seem to dig a lot more than I do. Plenty more fish in the sea, or bees outside the hivemind. Eat It plays fast and loose, in one sense determinedly retroactive – sounding like West Coast US punk at the precise moment it was growing steel-capped fins and becoming hardcore in the form of The Germs and Middle Class’ rickety hyperspeed. Candice Metrailer fronts the whole thing with the belligerent vocal pitch of early Exene Cervenka, to boot, and B-side ‘Insidious Kind’ maintains standards enough that you won’t feel shortchanged by it being only 91 seconds long. ‘Least, I didn’t, and I wrote the damn book on parsimony.
The Lowest Form – Personal Space
(Harbinger Sound / Iron Lung)
In my head Negative Ecstacy, The Lowest Form’s 2014 debut LP, shares a pedestal with the first Katy B album – go with me here – as the most profound musical documentary of the yin/yang peaks and troughs of 2010s London night living. All transmitted through the medium of caustic hardcore noise that sounds legitimately drugfucked and paranoid, with a few cheeky 90s rave/jungle references from vocalist Chris Bress. Personal Space carries on right where its predecessor paused: the spectacularly titled ‘Interplanetary Bad Boy’ kicking matters off, Michael Kasparis’ guitar a mire of crasher crust distortion. ‘Gak Attack’ and ‘Star Slammers’ writhe and foam like sinners under a Pentecostal preacher’s spell and a closing track titled ‘Helter Skelter’ whips us back to another kind of hardcore heaven. Comprising three record label owners and a record shop worker, The Lowest Form could easily have ended up mere collector nerd fodder, but never really sound like any particular band, style or scene – just their monstrously blown-out selves.
Sarcasm – Total Institution
(Far So Far)
Crumbling Wall Golden Age
Honestly, I try my damnedest to catch ‘em all, but even with 24/7 smartphone connection and a surfeit of luxurious leisuretime, probably about half of new London DIY punk bands miss my ears. At least in the short term. A Pete Frame Rock Family Tree of this scene, documenting its evolution since (let’s say) The Shitty Limits and Woolf, would be a recipe for multiple broken nibs, but suffice it to say that LDN’s batting average is still mad high.
Sarcasm have been playing live for just over a year, feature members of tons of bands who themselves feature members of tons of bands, and have one tape to their name. The brutalist heads-down ur-punk vibes a la Crisis will probably catch your ear first, with a bass style that sounds like a page of full stops looks, although there are a few incongruous spots of garage/psych guitar and full-tilt anarcho clatter on the closing ‘Idiots’. Two Sarcasm members also play in Crumbling Wall, whose recent debut cassette is six songs of excellently no-frills guitar-and-drums punk – kinda like Six Minute War or someone – and whose lyrics are all about the Roman Empire. This will either please or infuriate my mate who once envisaged an entire ‘historycore’ scene of similarly conceptual bands.
Urochromes – Urochromes
The debut album proper by Missouri’s masters of bozopunk juvenilia Lumpy & The Dumpers had a fair few bangers for the ages – indeed, it was almost good enough to live up to its title, Huff My Sack. If it didn’t quite land like their singles, it may be that their natural home is the 45 – which is where Lumpy’s own record label comes in, particularly the on-wax debut by Urochromes. Six songs of aggro geekery recorded in their one-horse Massachusetts hometown, the duo made do with a drum machine, and the fucker sounds about as flailing and fallible as the humans who enslaved him. The result is a record which somehow sounds like early NYHC and early synthpunk in the same song (‘Ugly People’), and despite its illogical premise makes itself work through sheer vigour and pimply charm. Also of note: vocalist Jackie McDermott’s solo single 'Mark Cone Sings', a bizarre voice-and-synth nugget that’s like a punk-tempo version of noted YouTube pervert Tonetta.
Violence Creeps – The Gift Of Music
Autumn 2016 delivered 24 blunt inches of Violence Creeps’ blunderful, wonderful crud racket to a world which offered nothing of value in return. First up by the Oakland, CA band was The Gift Of Music, six songs which superseded their On My Turf seven-inch via prototypical sludge (think Negative Trend and Flipper), bloodbath-raw Killed By Death-type junk and an ingenious cover of Soft Cell’s ‘Sex Dwarf’. Near-instant follow-up Soul Narc expanded their remit into brittle Desperate Bicycles janglepunk (‘Shadow Of The Glove’, ‘Leather Pig’ – chief lyricist Amber Feigel appears less S&M-fixated than these titles imply) and hypercatchy goth primitivism (‘Sewer Baby’), while refining their tekkers not one jot. This group make grubby despair sound so effortlessly fun.