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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge: The Best Punk & Hardcore In 2015 With Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , December 21st, 2015 08:55

Noel Gardner rounds up his favourite underground punk & harcore releases of the year. Contains NSFW imagery

La Misma photograph by Eduardo Camacho

Contains NSFW imagery

So this is the part where I'm obliged to implicitly justify the arrogance of selecting the top 20 releases for the year in punk and hardcore, in spite of my credentials for pronouncing on this being shaky at best? Yikes, pressure's on. I guess the obvious way of going about this would be to try and make a song and dance about why punk is still 'culturally important' and has 'something to say'. This would throw a bone to those reading who consider it a subculture based around nostalgia, wilful anachronism and musical conservatism.

I'm not going to do that, though, because I don't believe that 'punk' – to the extent it even makes sense to refer to a vast spread of sounds and ideals as a singular entity – needs those people to be on board.

They're wrong in a lot of cases, anyway: the score of releases below include records which don't really sound like anything else, and ones which sing about subjects no-one else is really singing about. Others are genre exercises, but smashing ones (and really, whatever type of music you listen to, you're cutting off your nose to spite your face if you can't enjoy a simple genre exercise on occasion).

There isn’t really any kind of grand narrative, or universal experience, in 2010s-era punk culture. What might feel like a big, exciting event to rally around – an album release, some old band or other reforming etc – to one cluster of people might be pretty much meaningless elsewhere. So my ‘year in punk’ (cringe) was probably totally different to yours, or hers, or your uncle who everyone dreads inviting to family gatherings. This is fine and healthy, in my book, not least because when punk/hardcore in general has had figureheads or lightning rods or even spokespeople, it’s normally ended in tears.

Outside of the musical documents I’ve picked out below, I feel duty-bound to mention the Static Shock Weekender, which featured a spectacularly high hitrate of great & globally-sourced bands, and took place in early November across various London venues. Notable among these is DIY Space For London, a volunteer-run punk-minded community space which isn’t a pub or a squat. It opened in summer and already seems to have had a tangible impact on the DIY punk landscape in England’s popular capital, as well as selling really nice espresso martinis. With those names duly checked, please try to enjoy my list of 20 great punk/hardcore releases of 2015, as subjective as it is alphabetical.

Artefact – demo

Although DIY punk has fallen for goth in a major way over the last few years, it's curious how resistant the UK has been to this particular spike of interest – especially given that most of the movement's most significant bands came from this septic isle. Artefact, a four-piece from south Wales, are an exception and a tonic. Their various other bands – only vocalist Hannah Saunders is brand new to the game – span post-hardcore, emo and glacially paced slowcore, which doesn't collectively suggest Artefact were nailed on to nail the gothic rock aesthetic. It works like a charm, though, from the stark guitar lines to the Siouxsie-with-extra-cackle voice of Saunders. For my money, and yours if you pony up three quid for their debut cassette, 'Poison' and 'Morrigan' are comfortably up there with Belgrado, Arctic Flowers and the rest of the best anarcho-flecked goth that's emerged from Europe and the USA in recent times.

The Bug – What's Buggin' You?
(Not Normal Tapes)

No relation to Kevin Martin's The Bug, which I daresay you were capable of working out for yourself, these guys are four in number and come from Lansing, Michigan. Appropriately, these six chaotic flails sound like classic midwestern hardcore, from Die Kreuzen to Mecht Mensch, but played even faster and with less concern for musical propriety. If this squealing pigsnout wigout had been released in 1983, it would get held up as proto-grindcore a la Siege or Deep Wound, but here in 2015 What's Buggin' You? still sounds like vital noise overload. Of this whole rundown, it has perhaps the greatest ability to make you feel like you're in the room with the band as they crank out this maelstrom.

Coneheads – 14 Year Old High School PC-Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo For The Sake Of Extorting $$$ From Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks
(Erste Theke Tonträger)

It may not be strictly accurate to say that the Coneheads' debut LP sells out faster than they can repress it: the band seem strangely lackadaisical about the prospect of their music reaching its potential audience. All the same, their jabbering electrofied budget rock captured plenty of imaginations in 2015, and unless you were part of their Indiana inner sanctum and had snagged the two zero-circulation tapes which are compiled on this amusingly titled record, they arrived from nowhere and without context. Bracingly brisk songs, mostly lasting between forty and eighty seconds, work effusive magic with rubber-band bass, pitched-up Bo Diddley guitar, pipsqueak synth and a recording job that doesn't care how crappy you think it is. The result is like a less practised version of Servotron, a late-90s band featuring the members of Man Or Astro-Man? when they felt like pretending to be robots instead of aliens. Which shouldn't, in principle, make for one of the most repeatedly enjoyable punk records of this or any year, but escapism is as escapism does, sometimes.

Couch Slut – My Life As A Woman
(Handshake Inc.)

An album whose release was staggered over 2014 and 2015, thanks to its New York-based creators insisting on the cover art being a sexual drawing which caused multiple printing outlets to shy away in horror, Couch Slut sound delirious and spiritually unclean for 29 nigh-on unrelenting minutes. Noiserock with a gnarled blues clang and some pointedly out-of-context jazz flourishes, My Life As A Woman could have slotted into the early-90s Amphetamine Reptile Records roster alongside bands like God Bullies or Cows – bands who helped to shape the tropes of a subgenre while maintaining a true individualist streak. And so it is with Couch Slut, who in a world of undeniably blokish noiserock bands are rendered most interesting by the two women in their four-person lineup. Amy Mills unleashes unholy hell as guitarist as well as sitting in the producers' chair and giving it the recording it deserves; vocalist Megan Osztrosits possesses and employs a howl to curdle blood, to the point where if you're not left decidedly unsettled by 'Little Girl Things' or 'Rape Kit' you're not listening attentively enough.

Crown Court – The English Disease

In which some folks from the stompier end of the UK hardcore pavilion climb off the fence, clutch their early 80s Oi! fandom to their collective breast and make a whole band of it. Crown Court feature folks from Violent Reaction (whose most recent album I reviewed a few columns ago) and Arms Race (whose set at the Static Shock Fest in November was blistering, even if their record never quite clicked with me), yet curb their full-speed-ahead inclinations on this three-song 45. The English Disease is demonstrably an Oi! record front to back, but it's a surprisingly tuneful one, with guitars pitched at a belligerent jangle and a solo on 'We Made You' that sounds almost goth.

Destruction Unit – Negative Feedback Resistor
(Sacred Bones)

Named (if my assumptions are correct) after a song by the Feederz – anti-establishment heroes from early-80s Phoenix, Arizona – Destruction Unit, who also reside in Phoenix, have a somewhat arms-length relationship with punk and hardcore. This may be because they play things like Liverpool Psych Fest and release albums soaked with wah-wah guitar, spacerock synths and nine-minute song durations. Still, if Negative Feedback Resistor is a psych album, it's the most hardcore-indebted one I've ever heard, thanks to Ryan Rosseau's vicious – if submerged – vocal approach and some dementedly wriggly guitar parts which resemble infamous Hawkwind-loving HC weirdos United Mutation, if they'd been given free rein to jam their acidic visions off into infinite space. Alternatively, the album Comets On Fire might have made after Field Recordings From The Sun if they'd embraced their bonehead side instead of the classic rock section.

Digital Octopus – EP
(white label)

If this record isn't quite a case of 'use once and destroy', it may prove to be 'use a few times and file away until you're pissed after hours and have friends round'. Digital Octopus is a Frenchman named Maxime, who also plays in the Oi! band Rixe, and evidently doesn't consider the genre untouchable – three of the four tracks on this horribly scarce 12-inch are synthpop cover versions of bootboy punk classics (the exception being a synthpop cover version of Sheer Mag's majestic 'What You Want'). Blitz and Negative Approach are both digitised, and indeed octopised, to bouncy effect, but the EP's stroke of brilliance is its take on 'I Don't Like You' by Skrewdriver. As you may well be aware, Skrewdriver's career can essentially be divided into 'apolitical' and 'mouthpiece for the extreme right'; while this song dates from the former period, some might consider the entirety irreversibly toxic. In which case, they might want to hear it enacted in the style of a European hi-NRG record from about 1985: roaringly camp, kinda subversive and doubtless capable of irking a bigot.

Drunk In Hell – Pre-Cum

Drunk In Hell's bandcamp page

Earlier in 2015, a Japanese soldier emerged from the Philippine jungle after 70 years, having believed he was still at war with the Allies. Despite all the wonders of the modern world, he only had one question: have Middlesbrough's monumentally great noisepunk slime peddlers Drunk In Hell released their debut album yet? No, came the answer, they've not. In fact, not even the split single with Kilslug has come out. It was all too much for the stoic squaddie, who turned tail and bolted back into the dense vegetation. Cries of “but they did release a 90-minute rarities tape, Pre-Cum, featuring the essential crude thunder of their 2008 demo plus various similarly foul live recordings!” and “they played a lot more gigs this year than normal!” appeared, sadly, to go unheeded.

Flesh World – The Wild Animals In My Life
(Iron Lung)

The debut release by San Franciscan four-piece Flesh World, an eponymous mini-LP on the La Vida Es Un Mus label, was glowingly reviewed by this column for its dark, elegant amalgam of 80s indie jangle and sharp, ephedrine-jittery punk a la the Wipers or Buzzcocks. Due to my irrational, nigh on fascist policy of only reviewing bands once, I didn't feature The Wild Animals In My Life, but it's even better than the debut, and hence is here. 'Just To Tear Me Down' and 'Strawberry Bomber' have steamclouds of feedback and brisk tempos akin to Vivian Girls' early singles – the blank vocals of Jess Scott, once of Brilliant Colors, help the comparison along – but Flesh World feel a bit more substantial in their song construction. 'Here In The Dark', the closing number, bisects shoegaze and Dangerhouse Records-era Cali punk. Moreover, their classically homoerotic aesthetic remains in place here, both lyrically and visually.

G.L.O.S.S. – demo
(Not Normal Tapes/Sabotage)

Shortly after Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender a few years back, she was interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian. Needless to say, the paper's online commentariat lived down to their reputation as moronic human filth, with a popular refrain being that as punk rock had already taken on one trans woman – Jayne County – then a second was clearly superfluous. No doubt they would say the same of G.L.O.S.S., or Girls Living Outside Society's Shit, given the chance – G.L.O.S.S. being a hardcore mob from Olympia, WA comprised of four queer/trans women. (Perhaps mercifully, the twain between G.L.O.S.S. and the more idiot-attracting areas of the media have yet to interact that much.) Their songs, five of which are on this demo, address this element of their lives by means of atomic-threat-level righteous lyrics and frenzied no-bullshit HC with a lil' crusty wheedle and a lil' more Boston stomp. You might have heard music like this before, sure, but not from this societal perspective; as such, this feels like one of the only objectively Important punk documents of 2015.

L.O.T.I.O.N. – Digital Control And Man's Obsolescence
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

One of two NYC bands on this list whose debut LP combined the overdriven drum machine madness of 90s industrial with the dyspeptic rage of hardcore punk – bet you can't wait to find out who the other one is! – L.O.T.I.O.N. were this year's obvious go-to source if you wanted to hear a band who sounded like nuclear radiation had melted their eyeballs down their sackcloth shirts, fused their hands to their guitars and caused them to grow 30 feet tall. Digital Control And Man's Obsolescence cribs from the unhealthy apocalyptic visions of Japanese band G.I.S.M. (hence the name), but slathers much of the album in ultra-crude Amiga-fidelity breakbeats. It's probably not for everyone, but you'll own few if any records that sound like this, and I'm pretty sure you can still mosh to it.

La Misma – Kanizadi
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

As with the L.O.T.I.O.N. album, La Misma's debut full-length is licensed to UK label La Vida Es Un Mus from New York label Toxic State – an ongoing transatlantic teamup that also includes lurid goths Anasazi and the quite frankly zany Dawn Of Humans. Kanizadi, which follows a La Misma seven-inch and tape, is more punkishly orthodox than the other bands namechecked here: an unvarnished clatterfest that hops haphazardly between UK82 gluebaggery, the violent whirlpool of early Italian hardcore and someone like the Fatal Microbes. Which isn't all that orthodox at all, really. Nadine Rosario sings in Portugese but translates her lyrics in the (lush, screenprinted) booklet that comes with the LP; notwithstanding minor linguistic wrinkles caused by the changeover, she possesses a dark, poetic, polemical and deeply sage worldview.

No Form – No Form
(Muscle Horse/Reagent)

No Form's bandcamp page

Notions of 'evolution' in punk are overrated, but that's certainly not to say that bands can mutate and develop along fascinating lines, sometimes in impressively quick time. The 2014 demo tape from Leeds' No Form was embryonic garage/hardcore that was fairly oddball, but also fairly underdeveloped. Eighteen months on, this five-song, quarter-hour twelve-inch is a right different kettle of fuck. Sometimes they seem to be nodding to rulebreaking 80s USHC ('Meander'), sometimes sub-On-U Sound industrial dub bleakness ('Untitled'), sometimes the collected rude 'tudes of Flipper, No Trend and the Butthole Surfers (the eight-minute B-side, which is also untitled). Assuming they have another release planned, I'm willing it to be something that genuinely needles people – no easy task, nowadays. Maybe a Pennywise-style skatepunk record?

Paranoid – Satyagraha

Paranoid are from Sweden, yet their 'thing' is to write their name, and all their song titles, in Japanese on their record sleeves. Notwithstanding Japan's weighty contribution to the crust, D-beat and noisepunk that bubbles angrily in Paranoid's cauldron, this sort of carry-on induces rolling eyes in me, I have to say. It's only because Satyagraha, Paranoid's debut album, is such a brutal, brakeless bulldozer that I'm prepared to let it go. Ten songs of guitars sounding like pimped-out chainsaws, frankly abusive drums and vocals reverbed until you feel like you're being dressed down inside a cave – impeccably recorded, and with bags of 80s extreme metal in the mix. Quite, quite relentless, until closing track 'Hoppou No Kurayami': six minutes of instrumental, organ-led ambient folk which is jarring, in a beautiful way.

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät – Aina Mun Pitää

If my search engine-based calculations are correct, tQ has published at least five essay-length articles on the Eurovision Song Contest, treating it with varying levels of gravity. As they've been allowed to say their piece, I feel I should too: namely that the greatest thing ever to happen at the Eurovision finals took place this year, when middle-aged, learning disabled punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät represented Finland after winning that country's phone vote. Apparently, at 87 seconds it's the shortest song ever to feature at Eurovision, and if boffins were willing to release stats showing levels of raging Killed By Death-style punkiness, PKN would surely top that chart too. It didn't win the whole thing – in fact, they came last in their group – but it was a deliciously surreal chapter in the band's highly unusual career, and one that was beamed into several million living rooms.

Sheer Mag – II
(Wilsuns/Static Shock)

Anyone who's seen Philly's Sheer Mag play live this year should be in no doubt that their true intent is to make people very happy, via the application of rock. However, this doesn't negate an uncompromising – if not bloodyminded – streak. When their debut four-song EP started to get fawning overground praise for its hummable new wave/heartland rock/pop metal muddle, with the puzzled caveat of 'why do these songs sound like they're recorded using a lapel microphone?', their next step was to release a second four-song EP, which if anything was even more lo-fi. 'Fan The Flames', an anti-gentrification broadside drawn from events close to home, is the keeper here, with a great drivetime Southern rock riff and a Royal Trux sense of impropriety. Long story short, II doesn't really sound punk at all, but Sheer Mag are punks down to their toenails, and that's how this column works, so there.

Sievehead – Into The Blue
(Evil Hoodoo/Milk Run)

Much like Tony Blair and Paul Gascoigne, who have both been credited with this quote, I never make predictions and I never will. About the future commercial success of bands, that is. As such, should anyone grill me on whether I think Sheffield DIY protopostpunk herberts Sievehead have a chance of worming into the same ears that have absorbed the likes of Iceage and Protomartyr, I'll maintain a dignified silence. Heck, the ingredients all seem to be there: Into The Blue, their debut LP, is infectiously energetic and slyly catchy, with a booming rhythm-led production, slashing Joy Division guitars and songs written with an adroitness hardly matching a band who'd released less than 20 minutes of music prior to this.

But you should buy it because it's great, not out of some misguided wish to get in on the ground level (or thereabouts). Punk prospectors fuck off!

Twisted – Utopia
(Art For Blind/Specialist Subject)

One of the many positive attributes of this enduringly fine record – which has been out on wax since January – is that it's the length I always understood an album was meant to be, 14 songs in about half an hour. Not sure if punk bands nowadays are overly ruthless in their editing or just don't write enough music, but not everything has to be, like, eight songs in under 20 minutes, y'know? Anyway, Twisted: based in south Wales, they were formed by Jon Mohajer (who also plays in Artefact) when he lived in Leeds, but turned into something marvellous when he moved back home and enlisted Livi Sinclair to sing in a new lineup. Her vocals elevate a boisterous, super-taut jangly garage punk opus – along the lines of The Shitty Limits and Regulations, with a few moments of emo drift – to a singalongable bouncing bomb of hooks and great lyrics crammed into compact spaces.

Uniform – Perfect World

Along with L.O.T.I.O.N., the other vital industrial/punk soundclash of this year. Uniform feature a couple of escapees from the NYC noiserock scene: Ben Greenberg, who bailed from The Men as their wish to become a 70s bar band overwhelmed their punk roots, and Michael Berdan of Drunkdriver and a few other projects. Perfect World is a break with anything they've done before, and a triumph of bleak, black vision. A cheap Akai drum machine whacks out massive, consuming beats, like Suicide and Big Black given the EBM makeover neither of them wanted; electronics fizz threateningly, bleeding into the scuzzy guitar, while Berdan's vocals (the most obvious signifier of Uniform's hardcore background) slither in and out of the mix. Slamming live show, as well, especially considering they only have two members and no amps.

Video – The Entertainers
(Third Man)

When I were a lad all this were fields, and those fields were full of people bickering about the relative merits of punk bands signing to major labels – or at least ones which are demonstrably part of the 'music industry', like Third Man Records. The second album from Austin's dark, post punk-flecked Video arrived in autumn as part of a punky splurge from legendary arsehole Jack White's label, also taking in an LP of trashy garage by Timmy's Organism and a new Wolf Eyes record. No-one seemed overly fussed like they once might have done; Video don't appear poised to majorly reap the benefits of a saunter up the ladder, but The Entertainers is great. Its first half is more straight-ahead punky, albeit with a skewed gothic/Wipers seasoning, but the variable-pace second period makes this album for me. 'No Art' channels the greatness of Rocket From The Tombs, while 'I Will Wait' is a spiritually drained deathmarch.