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Noel’s Straight Hedge: The Best Punk & Hardcore Of 2017
Noel Gardner , December 5th, 2017 17:04

Noel Gardner rounds up his top ten of 2017, plus an extra ELEVEN that we missed the first time round.

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Looking back over the highlights of the year, is it? Some might question the value of acting like the Oscars when even the Oscars are probably having second thoughts about acting like the Oscars. The Straight Hedge overview of 2017 does at least have the distinction of focusing on people and things which could benefit from the exposure. As well as some who may actively resent it.

Taking a wider view, it’s fair to say this wasn’t a year like any other, but if future generations attempted to glean knowledge of it from punk and hardcore releases, they might conclude it was. This is to say, and I suspected this would be the case when I wrote the 2016 equivalent of this intro, bands have not been moved in great number to write topical screeds about Donald Trump or the Conservative Party. This isn’t a bad thing, from where I stand. If would be if it meant that apathy or apoliticality were instead the dominant qualities, but where punk bands used to yell at clouds by writing an angry song about a head of state who would almost certainly never hear it, latterly there’s been a pivot from the macro to the micro. Misogyny, abuse, gentrification, corrupt police: these are issues experienced within, or by, small communities, and the kind of politics I’ve heard more about in hardcore this year.

A lot of my favourite records of 2017 were not political in a banner-hoisting way, but made by people whose status and day-to-day lives are, by default, a radical act. I’m hesitant to speak too assuredly of the extent to which punk has become a more inclusive environment for women, non-binary individuals and people of colour, but compared to about 15 years ago, when I started to dip a toe into the broad subculture, the UK at least feels vastly improved. I hope it continues with each passing year.

Below are my favourite 10 releases reviewed in the five 2017 columns, then 11 more which either fell through the cracks or only just got released. They are reviewed here for the first time, and with a couple of exceptions are from bands in their early flushes. It’s worth mentioning too that there’s been some great releases on tape this year, including five on the list below.

There’s also a shitload of new UK bands ready to pop in 2018, most of which you can already hear thanks to Bandcamp and some of which I’ll review properly when the time comes. The debut mini-LP by Dym, London-based tracers of the Slint/90s emo axis, should be out on the Barely Regal label by the time you read this – ditto Torment & Torture, the debut tape of anarcho-meets-goth-meets-hardcore by Subdued on La Vida Es Un Mus. The Quality Control label have at least three ragers coming down the chute: Brighton’s Vile Spirit, a flexi by Game (fronted by Quality Control’s own Ola Herbisch, and the best frontperson I’ve seen in a fuckin’ age) and Payday’s early-90s metallic hardcore revivalism. Postpunk hardnuts Structure, another Brighton band, have been threatening a debut record seemingly forever, but it now looks like an early 2018 job, courtesy of Harbinger Sound. Gestalt, the debut LP by the not totally dissimilar Negative Space, has been in Drunken Sailor Records’ schedules for months too, but looks to be ready to unveil in full. Leeds HC hellions Hex put their brilliant seven-inch online in July, adding that Milk Run were going to release it, but there appears to have been no movement.

The Snivellers, who feature some of Joanna Gruesome and also mark the return of ex-Lower Slaughter vocalist Max Levy to the purview of this column, uploaded four minutes of demo to YouTube (just to be awkward) in spring. They are, as David Coleman might have said, a quite remarkable live act; the next few months will see a Snivellers cassette on Gob Nation, a new imprint. In the meantime, two spooled offerings are to be upgraded to wax: the Red Sky EP from Cardiff’s Disjoy is having its goth-punk creepy crawl handled by Oxford’s Richter Scale label, and Urinal Vinyl are taking care of the early DC hardcore-meets-Out Cold demo by Bristol’s No Pulse.


NOEL’S STRAIGHT HEDGE TOP TEN OF 2017


10. FNU Clone Inc. – Binary Or Die (Total Punk)
“An exemplary murky fizzbomb of digitally driven punk.” (Reviewed in June.)


9. Nekra – demo (La Vida Es Un Mus)
“A diamond-studded bulldozer.” (Reviewed in June.)


8. Neon – Neon Is Life (self-released)
“Sounds like two (or more) bands playing at once, but the question of who those bands might be remains laudably unanswerable.” (Reviewed in October.)


7. Gutter Knife – demo (Illegal Activity)
“Astonishingly good, blessedly knuckleheaded street HC with cool menacing slow bits.” (Reviewed in February.)


6. Italia 90 – demo (self-released)
“This tape is full of corkers - I certainly don’t think that Wire, Alternative TV, Sauna Youth and Institute’s Catharsis LP are excessively flattering reference points.” (Reviewed in October.)


5. Career Suicide – Machine Response (Static Shock)
“Smokes like an arson attack on a tyre factory.” (Reviewed in April.)


4. Mozart – Nasty (Iron Lung)
“Mozart are best pegged as a hardcore band, I guess, but seem as keen to dismantle the conventions of the genre as to uphold them.” (Reviewed in August.)


3. Pinkgrip – demo (Far So Far)
“Six songs of blown-out slimy hardcore intensity, topped by throatwreck vocals.” (Reviewed in February.)


2. Endon – Through The Mirror (Hydra Head)
“Equal parts strafing electronic noise and chaotic old-skool emo violence/metallic hardcore - ineffable and stunning.” (Reviewed in June.)


1. Mutual Jerk – He’s Harmless (State Laughter)
“Sickly and discordant noiserock oddities from Atlanta.” (Reviewed in August.)



MORE BEST OF 2017 – THE ONES THAT (ALMOST) GOT AWAY

Asid – Asid Tracks (Concrete Capital)

A five-song introductory cassette of gnarly brickwall hardcore by a band split – albeit unevenly – between south Wales and London. A backline formed from members of Cardiff shoegaze dreamer punx Chain Of Flowers is topped off by vocalist Tin Savage, formerly of shortlived London band Mankind and a well regarded illustrator. His lyrics on Asid Tracks, about comedowns and futureless youths, read a bit like his drawings look: nhilistic, paranoid, kinda OTT but in a relatable way. Musically, Asid have the yobbish clomp of UKHC peers like Arms Race and The Flex, but with an added creepy deathrock dimension (especially on final song ‘Bastards’) and with max value wrung from the twin-guitar setup.

The Cavemen – Band In B.C. (Weirdly)

Seven-inch reissue of a self-released tape from 2016 which, while stuffing seven of its grotesque songs into the grooves, has to relegate ones called ‘Ooga Boo’ and ‘Gimme Some Clubbin’’ to download-only purgatory. That said, this drooling disgrace of a debut transcends format fretting with as little effort as The Cavemen (there have been many bands with this name; these are from Philadelphia) appear to have put into mastering their instruments. It’s garage rock, but banged out with the uncaring, lumbering abandon of, say, Kilslug, and always either on the brink of going to pieces or actually doing so, as on ‘Ritual’. A lot of water’s gone under the bridge, but I reckon when I heard the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for the first time, aged 14, they sounded to me much like The Cavemen do to me now, aged 94.

Eel – Night Parade Of 100 Demons (Beach Impediment)

Eel are one of many bands who have no Japanese members but are obsessed with that country’s hardcore scene to the point of appropriating its iconography, language or command of English (see also: The Wankys, Lotus Fucker, Paranoid). While this group, from Pittsburgh, do it a little more respectfully than others, there’s no further semblance of good taste on this LP, 19 minutes of noizepunk rampage that’s either hurling itself down a mountain pass in a shopping trolley or strapping into a medieval torture device and playing along to the agonised howls. And yet there are tangible tunes hitching a Trojan horse ride within: if you listen past the arglebargle vocals and home-dentistry guitar tones, Night Parade Of 100 Demons often sounds like an olde tyme solo-happy skatepunk band like Rich Kids On LSD or The Faction. The campaign to have Eel on the next Tony Hawk soundtrack starts here, he said without honestly caring enough to check if they still make Tony Hawk games.

gSp – gSp (Thrilling Living)

Following the Mozart and Neon releases above, Marissa Magic (also of both those groups) dominates award season here with a third appearance, as one-third of gSp, or girlSperm. In the wider world, wherever that is, she is probably the least well known of the trio: Layla Gibbon was in early-90s riot grrrls Skinned Teen before moving from the UK to the USA, while Tobi Vail has featured in several bands over the last 25-plus years, the most notorious being Bikini Kill. On the evidence of this ten-song, quarter-hour EP, they are still collectively in thrall to the power of the girl gang. Nearly every song title (the apex of these being ‘Hippies On Cocaine’) gets yelled out with the vim of the schoolyard, spurred on by a bed of jitterbug postpunk that’s sometimes scratchy, sometimes ripper-riffed, sometimes driven by Vail’s percussive rhythms. In other words, three individual forces of nature pooling their talent to become a singular one.

Isotope Soap – Piñata Chaos (Levande Begravd)

Isotope Soap is named after a song by Geza X, best known as the recording engineer behind a large swathe of early Californian punk. Its cackling, vaudeville vocals, budget rock guitar and programmed rhythms are the work of one Peter Swedenhammar, who’s played on and off in Swedish hardcore bands since the 1980s, and probably had designs on making music like this long before the damnably dorky likes of The Coneheads and CCTV started up. ‘I Saved You From Jesus’, first of eight songs on this 12-inch, does resemble that sound, albeit slightly more, uh, professional-sounding – likewise Devo played at twice the speed. Piñata Chaos seems to have gone under the radar a bit, probably due to not getting much distribution, but contains some high-grade party rockers, ‘Trump Des Willens’ and the Robert Rental-ish ‘EmDrive Thruster’ chief among them.

Lebenden Toten – Mind Parasites (self-released)

Now if we’re talking the American noisepunk hierarchy, and I regret to inform you that we are, Portlanders Lebenden Toten were coughing up cochlea-melting crusty filth a whole decade before Eel showed up. They’ve released three records during 2017 – the Bandcamp link above is for a tape compiling them all – and this seven-song LP is the quartet at their zenith. Their brand of noise is driving, with huge bovine basslines and drumming I’m moved to call ‘funky D-beat’, but crop-sprayed by a dissociative, endlessly swirling psychedelia, ramped up by almost inconceivably piercing feedback and in the middle of which sit Chanel Adair’s yelping vocals. The title track begins as what I think is an old Russian folk song, drowned out after around a minute by a typical blast of dog-frequency Toten screech, then throwing in some spacerock synth, then bringing back the Russian folk for the last of nearly seven minutes. What an absolute hoot of a band.

Negativ – Automatic Thoughts (Byllepest/Doomtown/Kibou/MMM)

& Purple X – Demo 2017 (Byllepest)

For all the great music that Norway produces, you don’t hear a ton about its hardcore scene, but these two Oslo bands kicked my ass in and out of the customs union in late 2017. Negativ’s debut seven-inch actually came out on local label/distro Byllepest last year, but got re-pressed this summer with the help of three more DIY operations; its didactic pogobeats, metal-plated soloing and caged-beast vocals bear comparison to a lot of weirdo HC doing the rounds right now, but these four guys are among the best of ’em. At least as interesting are Purple X, who only played their first gig a few months back but have a six-song tape of wailing, oily damage where drum fills and time changes jut out like birth defects. Weasel Walter coined ‘brutal prog’ to describe his music; Purple X, like United Mutation and Dawn Of Humans before them, are brutal psych.

Nihilistic Fit – Absolute Discipline (Pharm House)

Yet more punk/noise intersection jaywalking: Absolute Discipline, the third cassette by Nihilistic Fit, comes off like, what, Hoax meets Ramleh perhaps? This band from Fort Worth, Texas sound like relatively standard battering rammery to start with, but over these four songs, tempos get pulled all over the shop and the five-piece conjure the kind of FX-generated atmosphere you could get your hand stuck in. ‘Absolute Control’ runs to five and a half minutes and carries the kinda druggy noiserock spite that makes me think of Rusted Shut, Craig Clouse’s various bands, and the (fanciful?) notion that there’s a commonality to Weird Texas which overrides the state’s vast surface area. Not sure Nihilistic Fit have made a ton of impact beyond its borders, as it goes, but this tape is an impressively nasty buildup of gristle and bone.

Rash / C.H.E.W. – split seven-inch (Slugsalt)

Feels like split singles are now out of style, for reasons not obvious to me. Of the few I appear to have purchased in 2017 (Housewives / Massicot; Beast As God / Crows; Art Of Burning Water / Nothing Clean), this one, between two Chicago hardcore bands, seems likely to be the most enduring. Rash, the slight elders of the two, are HC worthy of being prefixed by ‘no-bullshit’ – noisy but not noise, scarcely macho in the context of the genre but approximating the sounds of straining sinew while ending up somewhat like The Repos or Urban Blight. C.H.E.W are a bit scrappier, get from A to B quicker, throw in the odd arrangement to catch you on your heels (‘Moral Panic’ briefly made me think of Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, except pitched up past the turntable’s top notch) and have a singer called Doris, a quality sadly lacking in most of today’s so-called punk ensembles.

Ritual Knife – Hate Invocation (Fallen Empire)

Haven’t copped many good doses of oxblood-booted black metal punk since Sump stopped releasing tapes every five minutes, and Raspberry Bulbs flushed pretty much all that part of their sound from their system, so hails to Atlanta duo Ritual Knife. Debut LP Hate Invocation (really? I thought you liked it, etc) is a triumph of minimalism, one sub-Oi! rhythm thumping pitilessly amidst the buzziest guitar tone you’ll ever hear, even if you still jam on the masters of this sound, Bone Awl. Who Ritual Knife are pretty clearly in thrall to, but like I say, it can never hurt to have the odd newjack bringing back this sound. Both members also play in dubby quasi-HC heads Uniform – not the NYC band on Sacred Bones – whose new album No Trending may well be great, but frankly I’ve just ran out of listening time.

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