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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge: Punk & HC Reviews For August By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , August 27th, 2019 07:44

Why is everyone in everyone else's bands, asks Noel Gardner as he presents another smorgasbord of punk, oi, industrial, noise rock, hardcore and D-beat mayhem. Gauche portrait courtesy of Jen Dessinger

There’s nothing like a gaggle of hot new punk unknowns steaming into the scene context-free, and this column [dramatic pause for punchline you probably saw coming] is nothing like a gaggle of hot new punk unknowns steaming into the scene context-free. Rather, August’s Straight Hedge is dominated by ex-memberdom, reinventions of varying radicalness and people you might know better from somewhere else. In fact, the most singular band in this column – in that this is their primary claim to notoriety – is also the oldest: The Proletariat, who formed in Boston, MA at the start of both the 1980s and the city’s hardcore movement, and after two LPs and three decades defunct reformed in 2016.

‘Hardcore’ is something of a red herring here, as The Proletariat never played it – gigged with every local HC combo going, and appeared on the scene-defining This Is Boston Not L.A. compilation, but more closely resembled a brisker version of British post punk bands such as Gang Of Four and Killing Joke. You could view them as a bridge between the likes of SS Decontrol and older, more bookish Bostonians Mission Of Burma, whose impeccably dignified reunion (writing actually good new music instead of just taking the money and running) serves as a model for The Proletariat in light of Move (Boss Tuneage), their third album.

Writers of some of the most erudite and interesting political lyrics in American punk first time out, age has not dulled singer Richard Brown’s scalpel. ‘Incarceration Incentive’ is caustic on the topic of the prison industrial complex (“Prison labour’s cheap!” runs the refrain); ‘Indian Removal Act’ likewise regarding his country’s suppression of Native Americans (“we live on stolen land … we wrote the history books”). ‘The Murder Of Alton Sterling’, released as a 7-inch last year, speaks for itself as a title. Brown’s vocals, querulous and high-pitched back when, are now raspier while retaining that arresting shrillness; production is fleshier, emphasising the clanging downstrokes and basslines that chunka like the heaviest end of 90s alt (I keep thinking of Therapy? while playing Move, which I don’t intend as a dis). ‘Vultures’, which continues Brown’s Reagan-era habit of lambasting the sitting President without dignifying him by name, stops, starts and seesaws like a prime piece of post-Minor Threat DC punk – which The Proletariat predated and almost certainly influenced to some degree. A pleasing circularity and a fully worthwhile return to the fray.

On that note, and the one just before it, the debut 7-inch by Hammered Hulls. From Washington DC and with over a century of cumulative recording experience, they’re the first band project in over 20 years for Alec Mackaye, younger brother of Ian (whose label Dischord has released this) and singer in Faith and Ignition among others. Conversely, bassist Mary Timony is pulling a double shift in 2019, having released one of the year’s best albums in Ex Hex’s arena-worthy It’s Real. Mark Cisneros and Chris Wilson, also found in DC-scene satellites – Ian Svenonius’ Chain & The Gang, Ted Leo’s Pharmacists – round out the quartet on guitar and drums. Three songs in just over six minutes, Hammered Hulls feels like Mackaye’s band, in that the lengthier ‘Written Words’ can be logically chain-linked to his post-hardcore rock outs in Ignition; ‘Self Inflicted’ and anti-surveillance gripe ‘Looking After You’, 81 and 66 seconds long respectively, to The Faith’s nascent stabs at hardcore evolution. I doubt the group would agree, though, and you could equally trace a line from Timony’s punked-up take on classic rock in Wild Flag back to the expansive, riff-happy ‘Written Words’. Wise heads and boundless energy make for a potent combination, though – again.

At just over 50 years old, Rainbow Grave vocalist Nic Bullen has just under 40 years under his belt in the punk scene. Not all of it playing punk qua punk, true: indeed, having formed Napalm Death in his early teens and handing in his notice as vocalist after recording side A of Scum, he largely avoided rock music and the band format. One short-lived exception to this, Backwards – an industrial-slanted thing which appears to have been all but forgotten about – featured two bassists, Bullen and Nathan Warner, who upcycled Backwards into Rainbow Grave by enlisting John Pickering (founder member of Doom and Kerrang! Radio DJ) and James Commander (drummer in Birmingham powerviolence corkers Vile Sect).

No You (God Unknown), the debut Rainbow Grave album, has already sold out of its first pressing on two formats, despite only being at all audience-pleasing if said audience are here for glue-headache-throb psychedelic punk sludge. If you’re reading this, I suppose there’s a higher probability of you answering to this than the general population. ‘Ten Million Tons Of Shit’ (title jacked from an obscure UK noisecore project, or I’m a Dutchman) is a ribaldly revolting rumble of an album opener, stuck-needle rhythmic stasis and stuck-pig soloing the vehicle for Bullen to list some things belonging to you, the listener, he hates: your car, shoes, pets, fans, hair, house, kids and life. ‘Suicide Pyramid’, previously on a split single with Spanish doom band Orthodox, and ‘Brainsick’ are equal parts Stickmen With Rayguns and Hawkwind; ‘Year Zero’ like if Lydon had scrapped Metal Box and rerecorded it with Tony Iommi and Glenn Branca. ‘Assassin Of Hope’ gives Ben Thomas’ saxophone, nocturnal like a 3am argument, prominence amidst the Buttholian snakecharm churn and ‘Dead End’ shuts Eyehategod’s 1mph hardcore in the telepod with Loop’s blank spacerock. Rainbow Grave, the Vile Sect-related Machiavellian Art, Nottingham’s Bloody Head, The Shits from Leeds and guitarless Geordies Blóm add up to a killer UK picture right now for fans of This Kinda Thing.

As rabid stans of Normal Man, another sludge-punk institution from Leeds, gear up to pelt this column with rocks and garbage for leaving their faves out of the above list, I calmly save my hide by simply reviewing their new album, City Livin’ (Viral Age/At War With False Noise). To be more fastidious about definitions than anyone actually wants, about half of this LP is really just midpaced, sloppy punk, but all of it is knobbly, distasteful and – often – very funny. “ARM THE UK / LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD / ARM THE UK / RELAX THE GUN LAWS.” This is ‘Arm The UK’, whose heartfelt plea for civil unrest is delivered by Noah Brown over a Sabbath riff purchased from Cash Generator with its serial number scratched off.

Brown, whose incarnation as ghetto house producer DJ Ford Foster I reviewed on this site last year, also draws lurid underground-style comics (and this record’s unforgettable sleeve, the union of 80s private press metal and 00s Deviantart). Normal Man feels a bit like an extension of their universe, or maybe vice versa: legitimised drugs and murder, everyone either a psycho arsehole or at the mercy of one. Even the ‘Party Men’, suppliers of apparently free gear, are dishing out Ivory Wave, a reputedly horrendous research chemical which I think was last in any sort of public consciousness circa Normal Man’s last release, 2010’s That Joyless Vibe. In further milestones, it seems reasonable to presume that ‘Get Big Do Some Weights’ is the first song ever written from the perspective of the voice inside a steroid-abusing teenager’s head: “Don’t listen to your mum, she can’t lift shit / Your stupid mates are all skinny little pricks.” If Killdozer and Chaotic Dischord had read the first ten issues of Viz then made a record together, it would have sounded exactly like this, except maybe with different words and music.

Landlords (Gob Nation), the debut tape by The Estate Agents, is also a zero-sheen punk clump in which the band take on the personae of society’s lowlifes. In this instance, though, I don’t think there’s any effort to leave you wondering if they ‘mean it’: none of the band are real estate agents. A Brighton affair with people from Joanna Gruesome (Max Warren, whose label this is on), Sealings and The Soft Walls, it’s UKDIY, anarcho, pogo, a handheld recording of one of those 1976 Buzzcocks gigs bootlegged by Mick Hucknall himself… for a project with an evidently frivolous heart, there’s a certain dark intensity to The Estate Agents’ clang. You’ll do well to make out more than a few fragments of the lyrics, but their choice of samples does enough talking: ‘Estate Agent’ has some goon’s “top ten tips for selling YOUR property” running in the background of the entire song, ‘Seats Of My Ferrari’ has revving engines do much the same within its Crisis-like chunter and ‘Coachella’ is punctuated by what purports to be Father John Misty greeting the eponymous Californian preenfest.

Gauche, another DC-area band, are the inverse of The Estate Agents on A People’s History Of… (Merge), their first-and-a-half album (most of the songs on it appeared, in less polished form, on a 2015 cassette). Mary Jane Regalado sings of police brutality and colonialism and feminist theories of work, and projects a bleak view of worlds both global and personal, but the music – early 80s-style horn-laden punk-funk – is unfettered joy - the proverbial danceable revolution. Some of Gauche have form here: Regalado is also in Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys, who were hugely popular in certain circles a few years back despite basically being a ska-punk band, and Daniele Yandel plays with the angular Priests.

I’d take A People’s History Of… over either, though, no question. Near-perma-driven by Adrienne Berry’s quasi-Afrofunk sax, Gauche have few if any pauses for thought, but ample melodic tenderness and a classic pop/new wave sensibility. Sometimes it descends from Delta 5’s gawky groove (‘Pay Day’), sometimes Big Boys’ party hardcore (‘Cycles’); Bush Tetras’ bassy bumpers (‘Running’) and Family Fodder’s frantic tautness (‘Boom Hazard’) exert a certain grip to boot. More contemporaneously, if you correctly dig Rachel Aggs’ songwriting and guitar playing across her various bands – Shopping and Sacred Paws particularly – Gauche come creditably close to condensing that vibe into one highly commendable LP.

The debut single by Chubby And The Gang is one of those blink-and-it’s-finished popshots you imagine was dreamt up to scratch a certain musical itch, rather than being a planned first step of a lengthy existence. Chubby is Charlie Manning Walker, a Londoner currently in Arms Race and Crown Court; his gang are drawn from various Brighton hardcore bands like Gutter Knife and State Funeral. All Along The Uxbridge Road (Static Shock), two songs in under four minutes, is a 7-inch with a Chiswick Records-referencing centre label to complement its suedehead pub-punk hootsnarl. The title-track A-side has some fine Lew Lewis-type harmonica honk, a percussive effect that could be castanets, typewriter keys or neither, and a textbook ‘moustachioed rawk guitarist pretending he was punk all along in 1977’ solo. ‘Mockba’, which seems to be about going to the 2016 European Championships in Russia, has the audacity to drop a tab of psychedelic wah-wah into its keyed-up r&r teethrattle. It’s great, and not a total one-and-done either, as Chubby And The Gang are playing a couple of gigs at the end of 2019.

Static Shock’s other fresh waxing is the debut LP by Minima, who are from Barcelona (the city) and feature characters from Barcelona (the hardcore band), Una Bèstia Incontrolable and however many of Louis Harding’s 873 bands you choose to reel off. (Aside: it’s not a ‘punk record’ by design but Harding’s album with Patrycja Proniewska as Fatamorgana is stunning bedroom synth pop, a highlight of 2019 for me.) This self-titled effort could be pegged as a collective attempt to circle back to punk basics, relative to the black swamps of distortion which characterise UBR and Barcelona; Angela Firmeza, vocalist in the latter, sounds decidedly less froth-choked on the mic here, and while Minima is a country mile from anything you’d call polished, album opener ‘Pelea’ stoutly sets out the four-piece’s pro-powerchord stall. ‘Jódete’ is like a bovver rock band doing The Avengers, which is obviously great, and there’s plenty of proto-hardcore (‘Adolescente’, ‘Veneno’, ‘Matar’) before ‘Navaja’ dials down yer heart rate with a slow-burning street rat closer.

A surprising amount of orthodox, common-or-garden old time fun can be had with The Psychic Hologram (Iron Lung), the debut album by Cyberplasm. Surprising, because this Olympia, WA three-piece brandish their drum machines and samplers like crossbows here, with the inferred band concepts – the body’s potential for evolution through technology; the mind’s for transcending objectively decreed limits of consciousness – not your workaday punk staples. Still, for all that Cyberplasm’s utopian digital hardcore invites weigh-ins with L.O.T.I.O.N., the NYC band who remain the gold standard for such industrial crossover schlock, The Psychic Hologram is essentially a (good) D-beat/ noise punk/ metal LP with go-faster stripes. Banging sequenced beats aside, ‘Dopamine Machinery’ pretty much sounds like Anti-Cimex or their progeny; ‘Nihilist Dictator’ (what a title) could slot onto the recent Disguise EP. ‘Free The Body’ triangulates G.I.S.M., Mötorhead and Ministry, surely some rivethead's idea of a holy trinity. Token tilts at actual EBM, the title track and ‘Perfect Body Pt.II’, thump convincingly enough to leave an Elektrowerkz dancefloor sticky. To keep this review acronymical, it’s also cool to find members of transfeminist HC gang G.L.O.S.S. cracking on after that band’s premature, if clearheaded, ending: guitarist Tannrr Hainsworth features in Cyberplasm alongside Sylys Malyck, ex of Xylitol and Emasculator.

More industrialised fuckery, and more Leeds personnel to boot, concludes this column as a five-song EP by Frisk is released as a one-sided 12-inch by the Donor label. Frisk have been around in some form for about two years, albeit kept secret by denizens of Yorkshire and border counties (this is my way of saying I only checked them out for the first time a few months ago), and the other names on their family tree (including but not limited to The Shits as repped upcolumn, noise duo Soft Issues, synthy hardcore cru Beta Blockers and glowering Black Flag-ites The Wound) all offer an arguable pathway towards what transpires on Frisk. ‘Extinction’ runs Allan Gardner’s crunching electronic bedrock the full length of Harry Rogers’ beastmode vox and some seriously malignant guitar/ bass duality that’s as rusty and bladed-up as a thresher in a scrapyard. At nearly seven minutes, ‘Attachment’ is the EP’s de facto centrepiece, and if by invoking Filth-era Swans, Wolf Eyes and White Suns it’s adding a piece to a tall & teetering Jenga genre tower, by gawd Frisk do it well.

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