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Noel's Straight Hedge

Noel's Straight Hedge: Your Punk & Hardcore For October
Noel Gardner , October 2nd, 2017 08:41

Freewheeling hardcore rammage and more in this month's punk and HC round-up, including Permission, The Side Eyes and Sissy.

The laws that govern what gets featured in this column are vague, intentionally easy to break and mostly theoretical, but one that has almost entirely been upheld is that of not covering the same band twice. It’s not that I lose interest in them after the transient blast of intimacy that creates a record review, it’s just an effort to keep things fresh when you can only cover 10 releases every two months. That means I have to declare my love for the new Endless Grinning Skulls album and The Bug 7-inch and Dauðyflin LP and Nachthexen EP and Atomçk and Sievehead and Heavy Metal and Cuntroaches within the confines of this sentence! The anguish.

There’s a semi-hypocritical caveat, though, which is that it thrills me to see people from rad old bands turn up in rad new ones. This happens a lot round these parts. Many active participants have two or more projects going at once, and often these break up or fizzle out, but not necessarily because everyone involved hates each other or are bitter about a lack of success. So they return in new guises, creative synapses fire anew and I do my swede in trying to identify who is actually in these damned ensembles.

Permission are a five-piece based in London whose membership is variously drawn from the capital and Leeds. They played their first gig in March and appear to have gone directly to an eight-song, 12-minute 12-inch, Contagious Life (La Vida Es Un Mus). Their collective record of achievement means that faffing about with demos needn’t be obligatory, drawing from Yorkshire bands including Perspex Flesh and No Form, while guitarist Ralph Simmonds has been in a few bands covered in Straight Hedge – The Sceptres in the very first edition, Satellites Of Love and No when they were both cassette-only affairs.

It’s the last of those three’s freewheeling hardcore rammage that offers the biggest signpost towards the sound of Contagious Life. It’s fast, but not to the exclusion of other qualities; the twin-guitar setup allows for cleaner, almost melodic lines and drain-circling, brain-flushing feedback to coexist on the likes of ‘Holding Pattern’ and ‘Contagious’. Drums are unflashy but laser-sharp and production is gloriously thick, attuned to the value of bottom end without tipping into metal territory. Broad efforts to pin their sound down to a style or era fail to satisfy: early 80s crypto-psych USHC bands like Void and Die Kreuzen slosh through their capillaries, but you might equally point to Italian hardcore’s reckless abandon, the heavier UK anarcho outfits, maybe even a bit of crust punk at the EP’s gruffest. Anyway, this rips and I look forward to being unable to review Permission’s 15th LP in this column in the year 2041, due to my unfailing adherence to principles.

Like the previous record, the quarter-hour debut recording by The Cowboy isn’t one for those who like a long player’s storage capabilities used to the full. I was given implicit advance warning, in fairness, by two of the Cleveland trio’s past toil in Homostupids – an obnoxious band with a sweet core who lived up to at least one part of their name. The Cowboy’s dozen songs chunter by as swiftly and boundlessly as Homostupids joints like The Intern (an epic 17 minutes, according to my CD player), but with marginally more lip service to rock’s conventions.

Released by the Drunken Sailor and Fashionable Idiots labels, there are no songs here that reach the two-minute mark, and no idly used space: Steve Peffer, Josh Banaszak (the two ex-Homostupids) and Drew Vaccaro sound fully attuned to each other’s abilities, and there are too many wicked catchy downstroke riffs to catalogue. It’s kinda garage, kinda postpunk in its most resolutely rockist form, kinda like the mutant rockabilly moves of The Wipers… as glib equations go, I keep coming back to ‘Hot Snakes if they were a Lumpy Records band’, which makes The Cowboy both very much ‘now’, in punk currency, and also not so.

When I reviewed the final, posthumous mini-album by Olympia’s Vexx a few columns back, I mentioned Gen Pop as the band that rose from their grave. Their EP On The Screen (Upset The Rhythm) takes the three songs from an early-17 tape – which barely made it out of town as far as I can tell – adds another two and puts it in a cute Buzzcocks-like sleeve. MaryJane Dunphe, Vexx’s frontwoman, is less objectively prominent in Gen Pop, playing guitar and sharing vocals with fellow ex-Vexx Ian Corrigan. He’s more of the curled-lip sardonic ilk, giving ‘The Wall’ and ‘Dear Jackie’ an early Aussie punk-like roughness; Dunphe takes a more-or-less backing singer role on the 55-second hardcore splurt ‘Easy’ and concludes the thumping, goth-tinged ‘Teach Me How To’ with a bout of highly welcome bloodletting screech. Couldn’t be happier that these two have returned to the fray (credit to Gen Pop’s other two members, David Strother and Theo Maughan, too – I just don’t know anything else about them); and, having now finished with her synthpop duo CC Dust as well, Dunphe is still maintaining a multi-band schedule and going both synthy indie and country rock.

Returning to Straight Hedge after a seven-and-a-half-year absence – they, too, appeared in the first one – are Allan McNaughton and Philip Lantz, now two thirds of Neutrals alongside Phil Benson. Their 2010-era band, Airfix Kits, had a minty line in tautly jangling early-80s DIY, and should have become better known and/or stuck together long enough to do an album. On the evidence of Neutrals’ two cassette EPs so far (one came out last summer, one a few weeks ago), they’re essentially sticking with that style. There’s a little more serrated indiepop in there, of the Shop Assistants or McCarthy ilk perhaps, but a continuum is ensured by McNaughton, a Glaswegian relocated to Oakland, still speak-singing lyrics dotted with Scottish nostalgia: I have a hunch ‘Missing Records’, from the first tape, doesn’t solely refer to records going missing. Of the latest salvo, Promotional Cassette 2, ‘Motorcycle Cop’ bears the most resemblance to an early Creation release and begins with a Shangri-Las-esque revving bike engine; ‘England’s Not A Place’ is less antagonistic than its title indicates but seems to be recalling a past episode at life’s crossroads; and ‘24 Pictures Of You’ spikes its snapshot of dreamy romance with the bathos of inept photography. The vocal melody also reminds me of ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ by The Streets, which I imagine is unintentional but doesn’t feel wholly inappropriate. Okay, Neutrals, this time do an album.

Two members of fellow Oaklanders Neon also play in Mozart, whose EP of de(con)structive hardcore I reviewed in August. On Neon Is Life, their five-song debut tape, Grace Ambrose and Marissa Magic respectively sing and play guitar – a role reversal from the Mozart lineup – and are joined by drummer Chelsea del Castillo, also of batty industrial noisepunks Pig DNA, and someone called Rosie who is an unknown quantity to me but who leads Neon’s charge with a bassline that sounds like it’s being played with bear claws. This is ‘Had He Had Time to Think’, on which everything curdles into a beautiful cacophony: foil-on-fillings feedback, Ambrose frequently abandoning her hymn sheet to gibber and cackle wordlessly, a steady rhythm maintained with tongue-biting determination amidst all this. ‘Untitled’ has the tape’s closest approximation of a wicked catchy riff, landing in the orbit of bands like Coughs or Guerrilla Toss, and ‘NEON’ fashions a self-celebratory band anthem by reappropriating a chunk of John Berger’s Ways Of Seeing essay, concerning the culture of publicity. This song, especially, genuinely sounds like two (or more) bands playing at once, but the question of who those bands might be remains laudably unanswerable – Neon have currently active analogues of a sort (No Babies, Guttersnipe, Frau) but are doing doughnuts at an intersection linking more great genres, scenes, people and ideas than I can process.

Remaining in that part of the world – okay, the same state, one bigger than most countries – LA’s The Side Eyes are new to Straight Hedge, and me. They claim literal punk pedigree, however, in the form of frontwoman Astrid McDonald, whose parents are Redd Kross’ Jeff McDonald and Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go’s. The quartet appear intensely relaxed about exploiting this, and on the strength of debut album So Sick (In The Red) have my full backing. Unfailingly uptempo melodic punk rock with garage and powerpop leanings, these 25 minutes are given added punch by a spot-on production by Steven McDonald – Jeff’s Redd Kross bandmate and brother, and altogether better placed to lend a hand than your uncle who sometimes keeps an eye on the mixing desk during cover band night at the pub. Guitarist Kevin Devine, who apparently met Astrid on Tinder, nudges songs into realms of 90s alt (‘I Don’t Want To Go To School’) and gothic rockabilly (‘Ignore’, a whirlwind of girlfriendly solidarity and ‘nice guy’ evisceration), but is mostly content with cooking up zingy first-wave HC lines. So Sick most consistently reminds me of Be Your Own Pet’s Get Awkward, and as that’s an album I’d rep for over 95% of notionally more respectable Terminal Boredom garage gubbins from the past decade, read that as a full-scale compliment. Oh, and it closes with a cover of ‘Don’t Talk To Me’ by early Cali punks The Eyes, written by Astrid’s mum during her brief, pre-Go-Go’s tenure in the band. This family are just too adorable!

The musical heritage of Partisan, a three-piece from Ghent in Belgium, is more recent and less familial. It might turn the head of a certain type of hardcore fan, however – singer and guitarist Cedric Goetgebuer was in Rise & Fall, drummer Ivo Debrabandere until recently in Oathbreaker, both on Jacob Bannon of Converge’s Deathwish label and both leading lights among keen consumers of Converge-y screwball metalcore frenzy. Partisan, though, are a venture into shoegazey gothic postpunk; We Have Been So Terribly Betrayed (Hypertension), a six-song EP that could call itself an album if it liked, demonstrates that this brand of greyscale flair suits them very nicely. On first contact this feels like music for sadsack wallowing, Goetgebuer intoning his lyrics Ian Curtisly and Thijs Goethals’ basslines justifying my use of ‘plangent’ in this sentence. Like a lot of classic miserablist rock, however, its outward aesthetic disguises an invigorating delivery. Partisan’s 2015 debut EP was engineered with slightly less finesse, and had more of a protopunk thump which has been largely cleansed here, but the brisk pace (let up only on ‘Forget’, the release’s longest song, and ‘I Have Always Loved You’, whose lengthy sample of what is supposedly Reverend Jim Jones’ pre-suicide monologue also gives We Have Been... its title) and Serious Rock sheen suits the band very well. Remember how good Finnish band Beastmilk were, before they binned off half the band and changed their name to Grave Pleasures? If so, you should grip this.

How come I never heard of Italia 90 until an American distro started selling their demo tape? They’re from London and play herberty Crisis-esque punk with an unusual, but effective, drone rock element. They sound like a band who would fit many given bills at DIY Space For London or New River Studios or a Static Shock gig, yet appear to have little or no interaction with that scene. Maybe they’re doing something ‘wrong’, and/or simply don’t care. I don’t either, really, because this tape is full of corkers. Two are little over a minute long – ‘Untitled’, which appears to be about the time-honoured topic of posers, and ‘Keeping My Hands Clean’, which excellently sounds like ESG’s guitarist playing on a Crass Records single – another, ‘Competition’, stretches to seven minutes. Of the remaining two numbers here, ‘On The Scene’ (“I’m on the scene / I’ve never been so bored”) mines Italia 90’s krautpunk niche with heads-down insistence and swirly effects, and ‘Mobile Reassurance Unit’ (“Slip into your neon dream / As you’re gently beaten to death”) captures the gruesome banality of modern peace-keeping Britain via two bouts of punk canter and a long midsection of thudding guitar noise. Very much rate this, and certainly don’t think that Wire, Alternative TV, Sauna Youth and Institute’s Catharsis LP are excessively flattering reference points.

Mexico City’s Anti-Sex recently toured the United States with Riña (whose single I enthused about back in April), and are apparently the first punk bands comprised of Mexican women to do so. Gladness that punks were able to facilitate this is inevitably tempered by the question of how much longer it might be feasible – thinking less here of the putative/punitive border wall than the viability of America as a travel destination for any non-white person. You don’t need a smuggler’s expertise or strong throwing arm to get a bunch of wav files into the US, though, so we should be able to enjoy things like Anti-Sex’s smashing debut album Un Mejor Futuro for as long as people want to create them. Released jointly by three labels (Cintas Pepe from Mexico, World Gone Mad and Grace Ambrose of Neon et al’s Thrilling Living), Un Mejor Futuro spins at 45rpm and is a suitably loud, piercing assault on one’s finer feelings. Drums sound like a nearby landslide, the guitar tone buzzes like a faulty nuclear reactor and the vocals of Blanca, who also plays bass in Riña, maintain a state of perpetual boiling outrage. The album title (A Better Future’) is one of grim irony, for her lyrical outlook is a near-unremittingly bleak procession of death, depression, oppression and injustice. The frantic ‘Rechezados Por El Estado’ directly addresses the thousands assassinated in Mexican gang warfare while ‘No Me Toques, No Me Mires, No Me Hables’ is about street harassment; still, if much of this polemic is ostensibly inward-looking, it makes as good and as noisy a case for ‘the personal is the political’ as you’ll hear anywhere.

And finally, a one-song digital single – not a method of distribution which this column generally has much time for, but an exception is being made for Sissy, a marvellous Dublin band made equally from punk, garage, powerpop and indie, and their song ‘Sail And Rail’. Everything Sissy receive, when purchased via the Bandcamp link, will be donated to Need Abortion Ireland, who help women in that country access abortion services. (Its release was presumably prompted by the recent announcement of the 2018 Irish abortion referendum, but would have been entirely relevant at any other time.) Suitably efficient and inexpensive, then, the song in question’s title refers to the transport links popular with pregnant Irish women travelling out of necessity to the British mainland, as well as being an interpolation of ‘Sail Away’ by Enya. This allows Sissy’s Leigh Arthur to paint a scene in which she and the ethereal castle-dweller board a ferry with a view to becoming “bikini-ready” via termination, before some misty Gaelic pipes (by Radie Peat from Irish folk-playing punx Lankum) float into the mix. It’s both impressively bad taste and laugh-out-loud funny, as opposed to making you smile politely because it’s for a good cause. Which it also is.

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