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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge: Punk & Hardcore For August Reviewed By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , August 7th, 2017 10:39

New, magnificent noise from Obnox, Limp Wrist, Raw Power and more in this month's punk and HC round-up.

“I used to be pissed off, like, ‘If I was white and I was making this many records, I'd be fucking well known, I'd have a gang of money in my pocket and I'd be able to do even more.’” That’s a quote from Bim Thomas, the main dude in Cleveland’s Obnox, and on the basis of his latest LP, this observation has legs.

It’s a funny one though: by and large this column pays little heed to acts who are, or want to be, fucking well known, and neither do the many labels who have released Obnox records to date. This new one, Niggative Approach, is on Gerard Cosloy’s post-Matador label 12XU, and as far as I can tell there are almost no physical copies of it in the British Isles. I’m not pointing this out to dis anyone – presumably, if UK shops put in the orders, 12XU would honour them – but it's frustrating to consider where a great reinventive album like this could take its creator. Thomas’s musical career goes back around two decades, when he joined blown-out garage rockers the Bassholes, and previous Obnox releases (this is his seventh full-length since 2011; an eighth is due this autumn) have been thumpier, punkier and more tangibly redlined. Niggative Approach is a curveball: it has, you’ll notice, the best title of 2017, and walks the walk by getting John Brannon, motormouth in Detroit HC band Negative Approach, in for a guest spot on the intro track.

Despite that, though, scant aggression is on display. Thomas’s hip-hop, soul and classic pop influences, studded in past Obnox efforts like raisins in a cake, rise to the surface immediately – ‘Hardcore Matinee’ introduces wonky boom-bap beats (by one Aaron Snorton, one of several unknown-to-me producers showcased here) to cooing psychedelic funk. This, ‘Beauty Like The Night’ and ‘Carmen, I Love You’ – a Princely tearjerker ballad with bizarre, almost shoegaze production – offer a lipsmackingly curdled take on myriad soul tropes; much of this feels like a perfect Stones Throw release. Sometimes Obnox rox pretty hard, in a more or less traditional sense: ‘Jack Herer’ packs a fine basement-Eddie Hazel riff and ‘Sexy Librarian’ is like one of those Royal Trux songs you suspect is actually boorish cock rock underneath layers of studio greasepaint.

Obnox fans yet to hear Niggative Approach can be assured that Bim Thomas remains noisy, triumphalist, wholly un-generic and proudly, pointedly black. What he isn’t, on this occasion at least, is a peddler of straight-up garage bangers, and this has shone a light on his auteur qualities. Yeah, nuts to underground rock’s perpetually embarrassed relationship with money and success (and to the privileged roots it assumes): he should be getting mad paid for a work rate, and hit rate, like his.

The first release in nine years by American queercore table-toppers Limp Wrist is also a departure from their recognised formula, sometimes radically so. They formed almost two decades ago with the intention of treating a largely gruff and sexless hardcore scene to some up-in-your-grill homosexual flagrancy, with splenetic shortsharpshock thrash. In no way the first punk band to speak of gayness on wax (progenitors from Pete Shelley onwards are hailed in their song ‘The Ode’), Limp Wrist’s influence on the queer punk culture of today is considerable, if often absorbed by osmosis rather than copied. Facades may prove a divisive comeback, but can’t be accused of raking over old ground.

Okay, ‘Facades’, the first song, is under a minute long, lean and purposeful solo-free HC, and vocalist Martin Sorrendeguy remains a cheesed-off frontman with a great turn of phrase. A couple of times, he threatens to be the proverbial old man yelling at a cloud: ‘Wrap Yourselves In Me’ takes aim at younger queers with no damn respect for those who created the subculture in which they gambol (“A runway / Swept of its history ... What could old queens possibly know?”); ‘They Tell Me’ sounds like a late-80s Dischord release and is a slightly weary eyeroll at latterday ‘purity politics’ among activist types – more of this later in the column. ‘A Little Nervous’ (“C’mon and get in my scene / C’mon and get in me”) pulsates with a subversive, if unlikely, rawk swagger, while guitarist Scott Moore has likely brought his other band, elegant postpunkers Flesh World, to bear on the more expansive arrangements and feedbacky tones here.

Side two, however, harbours the LP’s real eye-openers: three tracks of slinky electro, the likes of which Limp Wrist have never indicated the slightest tendency towards before. Leaning towards EBM on ‘Dead Artist’ and jazzing up ‘Systems In Place’ with a live bassline, I have a suspicion that the band’s dance music epiphany occurred around 2002, when International Deejay Gigolo releases were getting played everywhere and LCD Soundsystem (who ‘Systems...’ resembles) had just hatched. There is, too, a danger that the surprise at Limp Wrist making music like this at all might override the issue of whether they do it well – but while their new direction isn’t going to cause an electroclash revival by itself, they certainly don’t disgrace themselves either. They’re over here in November for the Static Shock Weekend and it’s going to be bananas.

San Francisco sknnng quartet Mozart could more accurately rename themselves Grozart. Nasty (Iron Lung), their vinyl debut following a 2015 tape, bundles six songs into as many minutes and takes precisely two seconds to descend into box-of-locusts chaos. 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 – Eli Wald and Jackson Blumgart are a dependable hardbody rhythm section, but it’s the doings of guitarist Grace Ambrose and vocalist Marissa Magic, like psychedelic freakouts at 78rpm and pitched up to +10, that hoist this record to the top shelf. Magic is generally unintelligible but can bawl for the Bay Area; Ambrose scatters chord fragments wide across ‘Love Knows No Bounds’ and ‘Tuesday’ in glorious structure-sabotaging style. Chaos master HC prototypes like Die Kreuzen and Wretched lurk in the Mozart puzzle, while more recent groups from NASA Space Universe to Frau indicate that this approach continues to be fresh and enervating.

Also released by Iron Lung, the second LP by Amherst, MA’s No Faith is a grindcore-cum-powerviolence affair with a churning undercurrent of power electronics: Will Killingsworth and Jeff Hartford are credited only with “noise” despite clearly playing guitar and bass as well. Also featuring drummer Dave Witte, a brilliant octopus-man whose lengthy rap sheet also includes Municipal Waste and Melt-Banana, and frontman Matt McKeown, Forced Subservience is 23 songs of boiling politicised rage whose chips definitely land on grind more than on noise, but astutely chainlinks the aesthetics of both.

Witte, who debuts for the band here, strikes me as the ingredient that’s amplified their grind tendencies: a lithe and extremely well-drilled monster rather than just someone who can hit a ride cymbal very fast. There’s a fresh industrial enormity to the sound, too: ‘Bureaucratic Channels’ sounds like Godflesh if Godflesh wrote songs 70 seconds long. ‘Progress-Deteriorate-Rot’ swirls synth, throbs bass and howls its vocal, Prurient being the obvious go-to here; McKeown’s throat is firmly in the hardcore lineage, with no death grunts or glass-shattering shrieks, and his lyrics a deluge of vivid negativity. Titles, pleasingly, include ‘Smash White Supremacy’, ‘Close Guantanamo’ and ‘No Police (Rest In Power Mike Brown)’. I have no quarrel with lyrical opacity, in this or other kinds of music, but it’s great when wordsmiths just fucking go for it.

Fans of Forced Subservience might also flip for The Sweat Of Augury, the debut album by Belfast’s Unyielding Love. Heck, they might be way ahead of me, as it came out last year on cassette (courtesy of US tape label Sentient Ruin) and has now been pampered with a justified vinyl reissue (courtesy of Feast Of Tentacles, Vetala and Skin & Bones). It’s a sub-twenty-minute Polaris missile built from technical grindcore, black metal and room-clearing noise. Richard Carson – playing in his first band, I believe – is a vocal ogre, and the opposite of yer man from No Faith in that he uses highs and lows of pitch with clear zest.

Opening the album with an Attila Csihar-type gurgle on ‘Abandon The Body’, by ‘Cruor Whelm’ and its 49 seconds of grind violence he’s hollering the house down. ‘Of Human Grease and Ash’ drops some solid blastbeats into the mix, and the quiet atmospheric intro to ‘The Pregnant Hurt’ is a smokescreen for the rest of the song’s blackened thrash ice-storm. Closer ‘Sweated Augury’ (the last two numbers comprise over half the album length) sneaks Lee Ranaldo-style windtunnel guitar into the junk-noise-metal-industrial punishment chamber. D’ye like Full Of Hell? The Endless Blockade? That mental Endon album I reviewed in the last of these columns? Anaal Nathrakh? Undervalued Boston grinders Watchmaker? Then climb all over Unyielding Love like ants on a sugar daddy.

Italian hardcore rippers Raw Power helped usher in the epoch of crossover thrash – and, by extension, grindcore and powerviolence – with fast, metal-studded albums like 1985’s Screams From The Gutter. They’ve held it together for some 35 years now, and while I can’t claim to have heard any of their other post-80s output, new album Inferno (Demons Run Amok) is an existence-justifyingly decent romp.

Mauro Coddelupi, the band’s singer and sole original member, comes off like a hard rock vocalist recalibrating his delivery for hardcore-tempo songs, akin to Poison Idea’s Jerry A and John Brannon from the second paragraph of this column. Brisk, well-drilled chunka-chunkas generally in the two-minute ballpark, fair-to-good singalong potential (notwithstanding the alternations between English and Italian), wailing six-string histrionics by Paolo di Bernardo on ‘Sono Morto’, ‘Dedico Queste Righe’ and ‘Harassment’. While not an apolitical unit, Raw Power have generally offered thematic light relief amid HC’s more hectoring types, and an inching towards social commentary on ‘I Lost My Patience’ and ‘Prison’ is undercut by an inherent goofiness. Meanwhile, there’s shade and self-aggrandisement to be found on, respectively, ‘How Many Bands’ – about young groups who disband at the drop of a hat – and ‘The Jurassic Hounds’, about old buggers who are still touring with vigour. Specifically ones called Raw Power. Who this album makes me think would probably be good craic live in some sweatpit.

Punk has always afforded its practitioners space to laugh at themselves, and this has produced banging results over the years. Generally, such quasi-satires need to be done by people with a scholarly knowledge of their target, which brings us to Boston’s Who Killed Spikey Jacket?. Fronted by Chris Pittman, who has a parallel life as a UFO investigator, WKSJ? pay adoring and adorable tribute to the hypertypical punk culture that involves huffing glue, hating cops, drinking from brown bags and (especially important) attaching studs to all your clothes. More tuneful than the Exploited/Riot City Records fare that serves as their ancestry, their latest missive of nailed-on punk parodia is an EP, Sleepytime Punks, on a Japanese label with the suitably ridiculous name Pogo77.

Each of four songs conforms to WKSJ? type: the title track manages to get ‘oi’, ‘studs’ and ‘beer’ into one seven-word line before ‘Spikey Drinking Power’s celebration of alcoholism smuggles its irony in plain sight (“When I drink I feel so strong / Not small like shrimp, big like prawn”). “IF YOU ARE A PUNK YOU MUST WEAR STUDS,” Pittman demands on ‘What’s Your Excuse?’; didacticism being a key element of his persona (perhaps WKSJ?’s finest lyric goes, “Don’t let them tell you how to dress / Let me tell you how to dress”), there’s a gentle irony in ‘Murder’ appearing to be about latter-day PC punx, or SJWs or whatever. I don’t know or especially care if Pittman is reacting to a specific experience, but I am generally of the view that chiding people most likely half your age over their moral outlook rarely places you in a good light. ‘Murder’, though, does include the excellent line, “Is there no place now for the rowdy youth with spiky hair?”, which sounds like dialogue from an unperformed theatre production written by a social worker in 1985.

I used to roll my eyes when people wrote about bands with ‘lewd’ names and advocated caution when googling that name, lest they be bundled down an X-rated back alley. (At the risk of appearing naive, does the concept of a ‘perfect pussy’ even exist in pornography, and is there an audience out there searching for it, like a mathematician might search for the largest prime number?) However, in the course of looking up info on Mutual Jerk, it didn’t take long before the results started to include examples of upstanding men striving towards a noble collective goal. And also tossing each other off. Sickly and discordant noiserock oddities from Atlanta, Mutual Jerk have recently released their first seven-inch on the State Laughter label.

‘He’s Harmless’, the lead track of three on the disc, is by turns comedic, uncomfortable and relatable, each adjective working in tandem with the others. Over a chuntering bassline and piercing feedback-as-riffs, vocalist Tyler Roberts plays the part of a craven apologist striving to explain away their friend’s creepy behaviour. “He’s one of those creative types. Could be a genius. He’s not used to being around girls I think … that’s just his weird way of flirting. He’s had a hard year. He’s had a rough week … We’d all like to see him meet a nice girl.” Roberts’ delivery, a sort of dramatic sarcasm somewhere between Pissed Jeans’ Matt Korvette and Tomas Antona from Alice Donut, is perfect for the material, but the litany of pisspoor excuses feel so drawn from life, it’s little surprise to read that they’re partway derived from bass player Samantha Camirand’s own experiences.

The other two songs are fine fodder too – ‘Parking Lot’ mulls smalltown middle-class mundanity as the deathly chime of Bobby Michaud’s guitar spurs matters on, before seguing into ‘S.S.W.M.’, a roast of boilerplate hardcore machismo (‘sober straight white men’) with a treat of a punchline. It’s chiefly ‘He’s Harmless’, though, which makes this single perhaps my favourite of 2017 so far.

TV Crime’s past lives are of varying and arguable relevance. Located in Nottingham, their grounding in UK punk mostly predates this column: only guitarist John Gilbert’s previous band, Guilty Parents, have featured in Straight Hedge previously. TV Crime singer Shaun Hencher has bounced hither and yon, bands-wise, for about 15 years now – his first group, prog-tinged emo sass merchants The Murder Of Rosa Luxemburg, were an entry point of sorts for me into this island’s DIY scene. His subsequent moves – Lovvers’ swirly garage gnarl and the jangly, shortlived Virals – are a more useful pointer to what’s happening here, TV Crime chaining their bike to powerpop and college rock railings on their two singles to date.

Last year’s ‘Hooligans’ was a sterling introduction, despite or truthfully because of the B-side, ‘Wild One’, sounding like Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’. The new one on Drunken Sailor, ‘Clocking In / Clocking Out’, is sharper and more decisive in its agglomeration of influences. Both numbers have got Chuck Berry rattle and Thin Lizzy-meets-heartland rock swells and early-Stiff Records sulphate jitter and pie-eyed Replacements gusto and Cock Sparrer pub menace. They’re playing a working men’s club near me this week and I anticipate the setting being bob on for tunes like these.