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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge: Punk & HC For April Reviewed By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , April 3rd, 2017 08:11

From the speed metal scene of Helsinki to the Mexican HC underground, Noel Gardner's bringing you all the punk and hardcore you'll need for another month. Fuck You Pay Me photo by Kevin McCann

Compliments don’t get much more back-handed than “the [thing] we need right now", do they? Way to stick your weasel plaudit right in the craw of its recipient, by implying that their artistic endeavour was, previously, surplus to requirements. Or perhaps not everyone is a gibberingly paranoid seeker of non-existent shade like me. Either way, it’s the kind of thing that people say about punk and hardcore bands quite often, partly because punk and hardcore bands often sound angry (anger being the sort of thing ‘we’ typically ‘need’) and partly because they have a tendency to reform, or return from a long period in the wilderness.

You’ll no doubt hear it with increasing frequency in 2017, even if the bands aren’t actually addressing the social and political issues that make their presence necessary. Like, I’m pretty sure all the old American bands on this fairly ridic-looking summer festival would still be on the circuit even if there was a Clinton in the White House, you get me? And yet: thrashing all the salt out of your body to the sound of full-tilt rock & roll discord is a valid psychological tonic for news ticker-triggered despair, which is only one reason why Machine Response, the first album in a decade by Career Suicide smokes like an arson attack on a tyre factory.

From Toronto and active since 2001, Career Suicide made mid-00s waves in approximate tandem with Fucked Up, and shared two of their members (Jonah Falco, who’s still in CS, and Mike Haliechuk who isn’t). Their brand of hardcore scorned FU’s zeal for experiments, being an expertly honed homage to the 80s greats with ample melody and garage rock nods. Attempted Suicide, their last album, is a post-millennium North American punk classic – one which came out in 2006, though, and whose makers were very sparing with evidence they might follow it up. Until November last year, when Falco revealed the existence of Machine Response in a tweet and pressed 200 copies for a tour shortly after. Finally given its full release (via Static Shock and Deranged), they’re every bit as ruthless as before.

‘Cut And Run’, ‘Break Away’ and ‘Borrowed Time’ (Career Suicide are, even by hardcore standards, an extremely idiomatic band) are a relentless opening trio, not easily traced to any one location or era. The recording, by Jon Drew, is a thing of brutal expertise, and the addition of a second guitarist works wonders; in a delightful case of Canadian cross-cultural cooperation, the new guy is Dallas Good, frontman of alt-country sorts The Sadies. If you’re familiar with that band, you’ll have heard him rock out, but surely not like this.

‘Tighten The Screws’ splashes colour on proceedings with a metal-plated solo; ‘Total Neglect’ utilises powerpop pep to transmit a bleak lyrical picture of mentally declining citizens spiralling downwards amidst massed medical apathy. ‘No Walls, No Curtains’ has a singsongy malevolence, almost like a playground taunt, balled up in its 97-second stomp, while ‘Taking You With Me’ opens with Good’s shrilly clattering piano and ends up resembling the guvnor-greeting pubby jaunt of the early Stiff Records sound. Fundamentally, Machine Response sounds like a consummate Career Suicide record: pissed off, but slapping the piss around with a deliberately broad brush so that the results may function as social comment or personal politics. There won’t be many better punk LPs released in 2017, and this is a reminder that it’s never too late to get back in the game.

Take, by way of further evidence, Exit Unit. They’re a three-piece from America’s west coast whose unspoken but assumed raison d’etre is to continue the streetsweeping work of fast hardcore legends Infest – whose brief recordings between 1987 and 1991 churned with a pressurised, snub-nosed fury that went a long way to defining the ‘powerviolence’ subgenre. Infest have regrouped as a touring outfit in the last few years, but in terms of new recordings, you’re directed to the debut Exit Unit seven-inch, featuring Infest’s Joe Denunzio and Matt Domino alongside Bob Kasitz, on whose label Deep Six this is released.

Charging through nine songs in nine minutes, a stat which elides the instrumental B-side ‘Negative Compulsion’ being longer than the rest of the songs combined, Exit Unit still kill the old way. Denunzio, his proto-cookie monster vocals on point, tips an approving hat to cop murder in the first song (‘Blue Turns Red’, geddit) and crams nihilistic tracts of disgust into tiny sonic constructs. On ‘Population Zone’ we find him “walk[ing] the streets of this fucking city / Up to my balls in shit and puke"; come ‘As Statues Fall’ he’s “tired of punching holes in these walls / In search of chins, I want to check them all". How many other songs are there with ‘chins’ in their lyrics? Domino (on guitar and bass) and Kasitz offer crucial backup, blastingly fast when inclined but keeping listeners on toes with periods of doomy lumber. A rock-solid addition to the powerviolence canon.

Fuck You Pay Me shot by Kevin McCann

Every bit as bullheaded, slightly more goofy, slightly less venerable and a sight more prolific is Cleveland HC lifer Tony Erba, whose latest band Fuck You Pay Me have a new album out on Tankcrimes. The city’s reputation as a Wild West of American hardcore – bar brawls, the tossing of large objects not intended for tossing, limitless aggro ‘twixt band and crowd – owes a lot to Erba and the bands he fronted, including 9 Shocks Terror, H100s and Gordon Solie Motherfuckers (the latter an attempt to bring a pro wrestling vibe to punk shows, with the results you’d expect). Dumbed Down, FYPM’s third album, is wholly in keeping with the established Erba sound, and is belting for all that. Armed with a crack band firing away at that not-quite-definable pace that’s faster than classic Boston HC but slower than powerviolence, Erba sounds like he’s ready to blow his top, but in a drily sardonic way. FYPM stack up chaos-inducing breakdowns and crossover-acquainted solos; indeed, one hates to be that guy who incessantly forces comparisons between bands just ‘cause they’re from the same place, but the violently OTT metalpunk splurge of ‘Crisis Actors’ is a dead ringer for fellow Clevo badboys Midnight. It’s followed up by an impish cover of GG Allin’s ‘You Hate Me And I Hate You’, which I think is the dung-flinging one’s closest brush with this column yet.

My testosterone levels rose so high while reviewing those last three albums, I nearly instructed the butler to turn my silk cravat into a bandana – so the debut album by Feature couldn’t come soon enough. (Seems, in fact, that it really couldn’t – having recorded it in 2015, they broke up last summer.) The work of three women based in London, Banishing Ritual jumps between heads-down early Wire-styled punkers, unlikely bursts of bubblegum – I say unlikely, although ‘Psalms’, the main one I’m thinking of here, opens the album – weirder, slipperier amalgams of dirgey indie and wide-eyed harmonies, and passages of wordless brood (‘Feature Theme’ squares the circle between Young Marble Giants and Slint).

What might sound like stylistic indecision hangs together tidily, with drilling repetition perhaps their one consistent trope. You might know Jen Calleja from her other bands, Sauna Youth and Monotony (if not her fantastic essays on translation for this website); while Feature, like those groups, are essentially sharp-minded, sharp-angled DIY noisepop, her status here is more or less that of bandleader, and a striking one. Pick this up for ‘Jealous’, whose chorus uses implied punctuation to splendid effect (“Jealous, me?" promptly undone by the more crestfallen “jealous me") and ‘Schedules Align’, which is like Elastica crossed with a Neu! album on 78.

Dallas’ Slimy Member are named after a Rudimentary Peni song, and while their punk rock – gothic, anarchic, strident, surreal – stalks that ballpark, it’s no carbon copy of RP, or anyone else. Ugly Songs For Ugly People (Drunken Sailor), a 17-minute debut LP that follows a demo and seven-inch, trims off most of their first wave hardcore influences and ramps up the early 80s deathrock sulphate shake. The guitar sounds like a grey wall of steel etched with cryptic sigils; basslines on the likes of ‘Oceanic Feeling’ and ‘All Too Real’ have that bluntly bubbling Bauhaus bounce that remains one of the most identifiable goth signifiers. Slimy Member are certainly not at the florid, elegant end of the genre, though: speedy and frenetic on ‘Bomb Blast’ and ‘Always The Victim’, vocalist Cesar Perez does appropriately unpretty things with his pipes, making Ugly Songs... a pointy-elbowed jostler in the pigpen containing TSOL, The Mob, Rudimentary Peni (natch), Anasazi and Endless Grinning Skulls. Whose new album goes seriously hard, I must add.

Similarly, the new album by Helsinki headbangers Foreseen is a sizzling banger that should be leapt on by anyone who likes crossover-thrash-that’s-mostly-crossed-over-to-thrash, and can stand to have more than one contemporary example of it in their lives (Power Trip being the inevitable other). It’s not out until the end of April, though, and one of the metal columnists ought to ride for it anyway, so I’ll concentrate on the two-song, exclusive to this format Foreseen seven-inch that Quality Control HQ released a few weeks ago.

‘Power Intoxication’ is unchecked thunder that sounds like 1986 in a bottle, all upturned cap peak and speaker stack plummet and muzzle-chewing vocals avec essence of Roger Miret from Agnostic Front. ‘Dying Spirit’ is a berserker maelstrom of divebombs, superfast bass runs, Reign In Blood chug and a pickup-frying guitar solo from one of Foreseen’s two guitarists – gonna guess Jaakko Heitakangas because of his strong credentials in the Finnish speed metal scene. What? God, imagine not knowing there was one of those!

In all seriousness, there are lots of things like this you should be aware of, in however dim a sense, but it’s fair to say they’re not all couriered into your lap. The Mexican hardcore scene, for example, is not exactly damned by overpromotion, but based on a few of the bands who’ve sprung up/out in the last few years, it’s got a high batting average if crud-fi ratatat rawness is your thing. The possibly defunct Tercer Mundo were great, as are Mujercitos, and this week I’ve been all bugaboo for Mexico City’s Riña, whose 2016 demo just got pressed to seven-inch by the Cintas Pepe label.

These six songs, all under 90 seconds long, are scrappy but exquisite, and maintain a melodic hardcore backbone no matter how tinny the tone. I’m moved to reach into the melee and pluck out the squealing solo on ‘Yo No Voy A Madurar’, the didactic military stomp-rhythm that drives ‘Vulnerables’ and the violently catchy chorus of ‘Dejen Vivir A Lxs Marginadxs’ – that and every syllable that Nadia Cuevas emits. Dunno if there’s something about Spanish that lends itself to this kind of vocal apoplexy, but her ragged, incensed delivery is one of the raddest eargougings I’ve had since Ieri from Las Otras, at least. Riña all seem to be pretty young, as well, so hopefully this is just their early era still.

The big bad ‘new UK DIY band with a demo tape’ splurge in the last of these columns just missed out Never from Brighton, but Illegal Activity (also responsible for the Gutter Knife demo) have just issued the quintet’s five-track cassette, and it’s worthy of being highlighted on its own terms for sure. I don’t know a whole lot about Never, but they have a good if maaaaybe sliiiightly contrived line in cartoon-sinister black & white artwork; a singer who likes to perform in tight white glam rock trousers; and a sound that flips ‘tween sludgy slow-to-mid weirdo hardcore, basic/botched streetpunk and faster flailings steeped in reverb. I get a strong Total Abuse vibe from this demo, which is to say that even if Never are ultimately saying little of great significance in a very histrionic way, they at least manage to sound impressively nasty while they’re at it.

It’s nice to be able to feature something from obscure reissue specialists Dark Entries Records in this column, as they do great work – albeit more often concerned with italo disco or minimal synth than anything I could Trojan horse into Straight Hedge. This expanded vinyl reissue of the 1982 debut cassette by Rubella Ballet is right on the button, however. Ballet Bag, a nine-track mini-album so titled because it was packaged in a plastic bag, is bumped up to LP-filling length by Peel session versions of six of the aforeheard songs.

Although Rubella Ballet’s anarcho punk credentials were extensive – they formed onstage at a Crass gig, shared a drummer with Flux Of Pink Indians and featured the daughter of Vi Subversa from the Poison Girls – they made it their business to be sore thumbs on the scene, dressing in lurid homemade garb that looked like, and in all possibility influenced, the décor at psytrance raves. There was, too, a profound pop sensibility to their M.O., even while ‘A Dream Of Honey’ (which sounds like Bikini Kill a decade in advance) concerns itself with taking shots at ex-associate Honey Bane for engaging with the music business. Heads-down and hardcore-tempo on occasion (‘Belfast’, ‘Newz At 10’), elsewhere ‘Slant & Slide’ is tremulous postpunk paranoia a la PiL; ‘Krak Trak’ like Delta 5 doing ‘Love Is The Drug’ – albeit slightly less excellent than this sounds on paper – ‘Blues’ a dubby bassline, manipulated vocals and staticky radio dialogue. Band members Zilliah Ashworth and Sid Truelove would later reinvent themselves as cheesy quaver/proto-jungle specialists as Xenophobia, and have recently revived Rubella Ballet to boot.

The debut EP by Washington DC’s Regulator Watts has also been rescued from, if not utter obscurity, then a hefty stretch out of print. Odd, given that the four-song Mercury was co-released by Dischord in 1996 – the other party, though, being its junior sibling label Slowdime, whose roster often sat in the nexus of post-hardcore and post-rock, and who closed shop in 2003. It’s fallen to veteran Spanish indie Bcore to handle the reissue, which bulks up to eleven tracks and highlights a band who spun inventive thread from their emo/HC origins – Regulator Watts, a trio, were formed by Alex Dunham after the end of the outstanding, short-lived Hoover.

Hoover’s rhythmic fluidity and atmospheric anguish (cf their sole LP, The Lurid Traversal Of Route 7) are carried through to Mercury: spliced with a Shellac-recalling bass/drum workout (‘‘48 Donut Queen’, ‘Northern Inoculation’), or the kinda Jam Session It’s Okay To Like which Fugazi were settling into around that time (‘Los Angeles’, ‘Chechero’). Dunham’s vocals still convey pain, even if his lexicon is too obtuse for us to know what the deal is; on ‘New Low Moline’, he croons rather than hollers for a short while, marking Regulator Watts’ intent to step outside their assumed comfort zone. ‘The Final Lexicon II’, originally a split single with Stinking Lizaveta, rumbles and bubbles like an On-U Sound deep cut, while previously unissued closing number ‘Version Idols’ is patchwork dub-rock which, while barely sounding like the same band as Regulator Watts in rock-out mode, exalts them as fine, underrated soldiers in the late-90s movement to push things forward.

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