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Noel's Straight Hedge

Noel’s Straight Hedge: Your Punk & Hardcore Roundup For June & July
Noel Gardner , June 26th, 2018 07:43

Hot high-decibel oiks to keep you sweaty right through summer. Clammy vibes provided by Slumb Party, Regional Justice Center, Fetish and more

“I’M HAPPY! SO HAPPY! And I’ll punch the man who says I’m not!” Textbook dumb punker lyrics, yeah? The sort this column thrives on, maybe to the extent of sometimes putting them on a larger pedestal than they deserve? Well no, they are in fact by Ivor Cutler, the dear departed Scottish eccentric who infamously detested loud noise and boisterous response to music. They have also been appropriated, lovingly I’m sure, by Slumb Party on the title track of Happy Now (Drunken Sailor), their frantic punk-funk hoot of a debut album. If this Nottingham band are no inheritors of Ivor’s mantle, they are very worthy of a spot in this bi-monthly showcase of high-decibel oiks.

I first encountered Slumb Party’s music last autumn, when they cobbled together a tape to take on tour (although a demo had been online for a while by then). What I heard as leanings towards the poppier end of British postpunk – perhaps exacerbated by a cover of Young Marble Giants’ ‘Final Day’ – is to an extent nixed by Happy Now: speedy, jagged and juiced up with the saxophone which, circa the tape, the group had only just added to their setup. The tempo pulls Slumb Party close to two of their stated American influences, Big Boys and Minutemen – Joey Bell’s vocals and Phil Booth’s guitar, respectively, bolster this – but there’s an ever-present British pop sensibility too, frantic on the level of The Higsons or X-Ray Spex. ‘Nothing’ enunciates its lyrics with the grouchy patience of early Wire, and if there’s a god of unwanted comparisons, may they strike me down if it’s agreed that ‘Everybody’ couldn’t have lit up Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish with a bit of a production rejig. Slumb Party are a DIY punk band from a DIY background on a DIY label, but are assuredly not ‘for the punx’ in the way a lot of bands I cover are. Their name may well pop up in a wide variety of contexts in months to come.

No Heart are from Victoria, on Canada’s west coast, and their debut album Can’t Get Out (Rebellion) is very much an Oi! record – in its artwork, lyrics, professed influences and members’ previous outfits. So why does it frequently sound to me like beefy indiepop with a gruff Yorkshireman on vocals? Well, the second part of that question is a doddle, the Yorkshire accent belonging to Mike Underwood ex of briefly active boots’n’braces crew Last Crusade, but I really didn’t expect his guitar to jangle so often and so unabashedly. There’s some gorgeous reverbed sections (‘Running Amok’ and ‘Do It Again’), invigorating Buzzcocks-y punk-pop tones (‘Come And Gone’), and generally very little for those who want their Oi! to sound like either glam rock on 45 or hamfisted metal. Lest I drag my ragged cloth ears too far down this road, and going on my limited knowledge of the band, I think they’re nodding to a post-Jam mod sound rather than C86 or whatever. Can’t Get Out is by no decent yardstick wimpy, even if Underwood sings “I’m sick of acting tough” on ‘Same’. The pace rarely lets up, with No Heart’s rhythm section having revered Canuck Oi! bands Bishops Green and Emergency on their CV, and No Heart have one of the bleaker lyrical tacks I’ve heard in this genre. Underwood seems to encounter heroin addicts round every corner, in the same way the Queen is always greeted with fresh paint, and for his own sins blots out drudgery with beer more than even the average Oi! lyricist. Can’t Get Out, though, is far from an average Oi! release.

Next up, an EP by Coupe Gorge from Brest, France. French-language Oi!, recently given a bizarre cameo in the news, has long had a singular fanbase, one likely to confound people who swallowed the stereotype about the nation’s inability to rock. Troubles (Offside) – nine songs on one side of vinyl, all under two minutes – ought to sate fans of Rixe, France’s premier Oi! ambassadors of the modern era, while adding an heroic dose of hardcore stomp a la Arms Race, Violent Reaction and recent Brit-based mean muggers of that nature. ‘Précipice’, the opening track, if anything undersells how mosh-friendly Coupe Gorge can get, with a streetpunk in excelsis guitar solo tacked on at the end – come ‘Envie Destructrice’, it’s all oompah beats and midsections clearly crafted with dancefloor stakeouts in mind. Lyrics, fed to the wolf of Google Translate as is my ignorant wont, are decidedly death-obsessed and sometimes seem more suited to a metal band – still, even though they don’t provide words in either language for ‘100%’, you should be up to the job of bawling “A CENT POUR CENT!” and sloshing your snifter of pastis.

World Of Inconvenience, the debut not-very-long player by LA’s Regional Justice Center, is like Troubles a 12-inch that could have been bundled onto a 33rpm seven-inch. In fairness, small vinyl is a complete money grave for DIY labels – four of which have released this record, Adagio830 being your best bet if you’re reading this in Europe – and the brutal Mark McCoy sleeve art certainly warrants a widescreen showing. Pretty interesting backstory here, too: inspired by the incarceration of main RJC member Ian Shelton’s younger brother Max, who got in a scrap related to a small town’s drug trade and stabbed two assailants.

Granted, you won’t glean all that from the lyrics, which are snub-nose blunt as befits the brickwall-hardcore-meets-downtuned-powerviolence music, but the elder Shelton’s interviews promoting the album have been candid and eloquent. As such, taken as a complete package World Of Inconvenience is a scalding broadside against the exploitation and self-defeating contempt built into the American prison complex. (This is, on account of the Sheltons being white, without even venturing into its racial dimensions.) Ian makes nearly every sound on it, and goes big on the quasi-metallic chugs and frantic snare blasts alike; if Weekend Nachos meets Raw Nerve plumps your pillows as glib comparisons go, enter here.

Straight Hedge’s equivalent of an after-dinner cigar is the occasional indulgence of sneaking some technically wizardous 5D-chess grindcore into this procession of half-skilled slovenliness. The excellent Psudoku album from last year was reviewed in that spirit, and now here’s the second album by Brutal Blues, a duo from Stavanger in Norway who feature Steinar Kittilsen of Psudoku on guitar. BB (At War With False Noise / Give Praise) is just as much of a headfuck, too, which is some achievement. Cosmetically rougher, maybe more analogous to free jazz than Psudoku’s prog, and with tracks numbered between 1 and 10 rather than being titled, Brutal Blues make judicious use of the studio and/or pedal board, with Kittilsen’s – wordless, as far as my ragged cloth ears can discern – vocals drowned in reverb and his guitar flung into deep space. Drummer Anders Hana, who you may know from Norse noiserockers Noxagt and Ultralyd, has an almost-gabber-like treatment applied to his 16th-note snare hits, which takes the duo further still away from trad-grind territory but into a space, frighteningly compressed yet hugely fertile, between The Flying Luttenbachers and Gridlink.

Flower! Power! Violence! The psychedelic 60s are paid unlikely tribute on the debut single (on Beach Impediment) by Fetish, whose B-side is a boozy swagger through Love’s ‘A House Is Not A Motel’. Someone has probably called Arthur Lee “the first punk” before, and I shan’t get into all that, but his enthusiasm for driving his body like he stole it may have struck a chord with some of this Portland sextet. Drummer Steve Hanford, notably, holds the distinction of being the most drug-ravaged member of Poison Idea, and in Fetish he – as his nom de punk, The Slayer Hippy – is joined by ex-PI veteran Eric Olson and the now-dissolved group’s latterday guitarist Brandon Bentley. They’re rounded out by three members of Long Knife, a local combo whose apparent ambition was to sound as much like late-80s Poison Idea as possible without being an actual cover band. All of which means that ‘Take The Knife’, the lead cut on this 45, is 155 seconds of raucous, pounding hardcore played by hard rock heads, and no less than three guitarists ensuring it sounds thick as tar. Colin Jarrell’s lyrics affect the POV of a can-stashing backwoods survivalist (“There is an army headed your way / The time is coming and it could be today”), which got me thinking of New Hampshire’s metal musclemen Scissorfight, Poison Idea-influenced as they surely were.

Two Australian labels, Helta Skelta and Lost In Fog, pool resources for a split 7-inch with two Australian bands, Cold Meat and Ubik. I reviewed the debut tape by Perth’s Cold Meat in 2016, and loved it, but never quite shook the feeling they’re kind of the Long Knife of Good Throb, if you follow. Their two self-penned songs here go towards shaking that, though, especially ‘Self Care’ – a brilliantly strident early-anarcho crotch-punt that could pass for a one-off Crass Records single and is probably the best thing the quartet have released so far. Ubik, a Melbourne band whose two prior releases put a gothic spin on hardcore scrap, contribute ‘Lost & Later’, one minute of frantic crypto-pogo in a similar soundspace to the very good Runt album released by La Vida Es En Mus early this year. Both bands also turn in a cover – Cold Meat do Siouxsie & The Banshees’ ‘Love In A Void’, aka the one where Siouxsie sang “too many Jews for my liking” in its original form, which is wisely not emulated here. Ubik tackle X’s dirgey ‘Nausea’, where Exene Cervenka talked of feeling “retarded”, as does this version. Just an observation.

Cold Meat’s Ashley Ramsey drums in Debbie Downers, a new Perth band whose tape EP, Eat My Skorts, is on Helta Skelta. It’s at the more melodic and pop-savvy end of punk, with lots of shouty harmonies and self-deprecation; on ‘Franklin Street’ they bewail, “You know you’re gonna die a spinster!” but, by the following ‘Bridal Dress’, have remembered that marriage is an ageless drainer of passion only grey clods consider worthwhile. Save for a cover of ‘Job’, a song by San Francisco’s Nubs which has frankly been covered enough already, Debbie Downers seem to be mining an early-80s UK girl gang groove: a bassline that could be Girls At Our Best here, a Gymslips-y huddle of pisstakey solidarity there. ‘Louis And David’, the last of six songs, hails the telegenic sexuality of Theroux and Attenborough, respectively: “I can’t watch anything feminist when all I want to watch is you.” With this in mind, I suggest Debbie Downers tour the UK, during which they can also attend one of the abysmal-looking ironic student club nights dedicated to both those presenters.

‘Powerfrau’ and ‘Skank Witch’ would have made a killer debut 7-inch for Newcastle’s Blóm, but the Hominid Sounds label released it on cassette – probably because of that money grave thing I mentioned – and it’s now sold out, although they’re on tour in July and might have a few left. It’s worth your time in any format, especially if you were a fan of Tough Tits, whose singer Helen Walkinshaw and drummer Liz McDade have reassembled here – on this evidence, though, Blóm are considerably heavier, a vox/bass/drums trio with supremely blown-out production and a way of shifting tempo so the sludge feels like it’s blasting from a faulty hose. Equal parts Scrap Brain and Brainbombs on ‘Powerfrau’, Frau crossed with an amalgam of the mid-00s Load Records roster on ‘Skank Witch’, I would forgive you for suspecting I’m using lazy word association in lieu of accurate references. You’d be wrong, buddy, but even so Blóm have one of the most distinctive punk sounds I’ve heard recently.

Absolutely smashing comp tape to round us off this month – Para Cuando En Mi Te Mueras, subtitled 20 Unearthly Sissy And Sassy Hits and professing to document the “international fem/queer underground”. I couldn’t confidently say how representative these results are, or how much Glasgow label Comidillo Tapes were concerned about that; about half the acts here are Latinx and several more are Scottish, but this is peppered with reet bangers, many of which I’m just discovering now. Lots of it is taken from extant releases, but the contributions by Divorce, Mentira and Guttersnipe seem to be exclusive, which would have sufficed for this punter. As bonus blare goes, Comfort’s Fall-at-their-keyboard-heavy-noisiest ‘Husbands (Get Involved)’, or the sore-thumb sludge metal of Yelt’s ‘Squirt Don’t Hurt’, or ‘El C’, half a minute of lethal thrashcore from Argentinians Trincheta, is generous enough that I’m thinking I must have been nice in a past life. A score of bands adding up to a crucial score for your collection.