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Subordination Noel Gardner , June 7th, 2017 15:39

Austin, Texas four-piece Institute have made subtle stylistic shifts from release to release, while maintaining a core influence of rattling British anarcho punk and early, flint-sharp post-punk. Subordination, their second studio album, feels bellicose and paranoid, a slate-grey sky falling towards the head of vocalist Moses Brown even when you can’t decipher what’s coming out of his marble-filled mouth. A more emotionally manipulative reviewer, or emotionally manipulated listener, might then go on to suggest that “this is an apposite soundtrack for the times we live in,” or somesuch.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’m writing this review a few days before a general election whose result will profoundly date any broad statements about the political landscape, Institute aren’t that glib, and don’t make music one can rally round in this way. So as snug and satisfying as it might be to chunter on about The Mob’s Let The Tribe Increase or Subhumans’ The Day The Country Died or Kill From The Heart by The Dicks (also from Austin), on the basis of Subordination being to 2017 what those albums were to 1983, it’s not really a goer. This does sound like 1983, kinda, but only as much as it sounds like 1977 or 1978 or 1972 or, without mulling retromania too much, 2017.

Saying its piece inside nine songs and 26 minutes – please note this isn’t a mini-album, it’s a punk one – Subordination is leaner than debut LP Catharsis, released almost exactly two years ago (by NYC label Sacred Bones, as is this), more focused and driving. Moses Brown has also altered his vocals, excising the Ian Curtis spook factor that existed in trace elements previously. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume Institute were an Australian band: not only has Brown developed that twang to his mutterings, but opening song ‘Exhibitionism’ combines quickstep anarcho rhythms with more freeform, hard rock-influenced guitar parts from Arak Avakian. ‘Only Child’, which follows, introduces a heavy protopunk swing; its interlocking of nonchalance and belligerence could sit comfortably on compilations next to The Saints or X.

These protopunk/pre-punk/just plain not punk touches continue on ‘Human Law’, the album’s longest song at four and a half minutes (the direction hinted at by Catharsis’ Krautrock-ish epic ‘Christian Right’ has not materialised), which is split into two parts: a brittle anarcho tempo gives way to some psychedelic guitar, before it returns to a faster clip. And ‘Powerstation’ hairballs out unexpectedly, with a hulking crypto-Sabbath riff that could have come from the weirder end of early 70s private press UK hard rock. Brown, whose vocals seem to get croakier and more dessicated as the album goes on, finishes with a bout of demented, distressed snarling. This is Subordination’s closing track, and a great way to finish.

And in between all that, there’s the stompy, nigh-on hardcore ‘Prissy Things’; ‘All This Pride’ – slower and more menacing, with a goth edge to the guitars – and the great, driving ‘Good Ol’ Boys’, whose title might be a nod to their Texas surroundings, but musically sounds like a lost artefact from the post-Richard Hell scene in the NYC that Brown now calls home. Produced, as with their last LP, by Ben Greenberg of Uniform, Subordination sounds so sonorously unclean, every instrument sallying forth in the mix.

Rotten UK, an American band whose inspirations are partially shared with Institute but enacted far more cartoonishly, have a song on their most recent album (I reviewed it here) which goes “Thatcher Thatcher, Reagan Reagan / It’s all happening again!” It was released before Donald Trump was elected and written before Theresa May became Prime Minister, indicating that we should look to these unlikely sages for the direction of the blowing wind. Institute, conversely, may not have all, or even any, of the answers, but they weave the personal into the political thrillingly: in time, Subordination may come to be seen as one of 2017’s finest punk releases.