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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner On The Best Punk & HC Of 2019
Noel Gardner , December 10th, 2019 11:18

Our head Gardner is close to rounding off a decade of blazing Noel's Straight Hedge columns... but before that there's one last task for this year: rounding up ten of the best and the best of the rest when it comes to punk, HC &c.

I’ll keep this bit short: during 2019 I reviewed about fifty releases in this bi-monthly column which fall under the definition of punk or hardcore, or were considered by me to do so. Below is a rundown of the ten I liked the best, in reverse order until the coveted number one spot. (I don’t really think it’s coveted, that was just a sort of joke.)

There were also a great, great many more I didn’t review, because much of the punk underground doesn’t really go big on publicity, let alone send out freebies to random dickheads like me, so often things go unheard until several months after they were released. I’ve addressed ten such items below as well.

Aside from that, there isn’t much of substance to add to a year-end overview on the topic of this subculture. Punk evolves, even if that evolution is often incremental, and is subject to trends and flashpoints, but I don’t really feel that these happen in the context of a particular calendar year. (Am now imagining a Dow Jones index-type live ticker, except it’s for, like, hardcore guitarists starting industrial solo projects, or something.)

Maybe 2020 will bring us loads of Maggie’n’Ronnie-type songs about Boris & Donnie, in the same way people have been idly wondering for about thirty years if a new wave of angry political punk about easily identifiable targets is just around the corner, but I don’t really see that happening or think it would have much bottom-line value as a style of protest.

Next February, I will have written Noel’s Straight Hedge for ten years, which on a personal level is something to chew on for sure; I enjoy doing it on tQ specifically because it isn’t a punk or hardcore-specific website, indeed doesn’t cover those genres a great deal otherwise. Making it more likely that someone who isn’t very plugged into this corner of underground music (I’m not going to get into the whole ‘6 Music dads think such-and-such popular band is punk but this is the real stuff’ thing, I don’t care and it doesn’t affect the bands I like) might find something rad they’d never have otherwise heard of. If you think you might fit that description, get scrolling, streaming, purchasing and life-changing via the below. If you want.

10. Disguise – Bas Fada
(Static Shock)

“Dublin’s studded screech owls.”

9. Soga – Demo
(Iron Lung)

“Total energy with, by my reckoning, exactly one slow part, every member chips in on vox and accentuates the already strong sense of girl-gangness.”

8. Enzyme – Howling Mind
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

“That shrill-drill atonality Disorder patented in the early 80s and some phaser-heavy psychedelia.”

7. PlasticHeads – Nowhere To Run
(Ugly Pop)

“An overall way with hardcore-paced garage punk that’s got me recalling good times spent with The Shitty Limits in a past era.”

6. Rainbow Grave – No You
(God Unknown)

“Only at all audience-pleasing if said audience are here for glue-headache-throb psychedelic punk sludge.”

5. Haiboku – Un Nuevo Poder
(Rock SVB / Planeta Destrozado)

“Herberty vocal rasp and outrageous canvas-splattering metal guitar solos are a driving force alongside rhythm-section bulldozery, but at their heart Haiboku come off like a rock’n’roll band, just one playing very VERY fast and loose.”

4. Terra Soror – Revenge
(self-released)

“Six songs which thread an almost surfpunk groove through blown-out gothic anarcho vibes and make extensive reference to ecofeminist theory.”

3. Petlya – Troglodyte
(Estranged Communications)

“Hectic tempos with gaspworthy shifts of same, infinite ripples of vocal reverb, guitar solos like a chemical explosion lighting up the sky and vocals that emerge straight from the throat while eschewing dread Cookie Monstrosity.”

2. Implement – Through Screams Of Infernal Misery
(Cold Comfort)

“Eddie Van Halen joining Cro-Mags for their second album? Crossover thrash verses and power metal breakdowns leave you anticipating a bangover and Leah Massey is a vocal revelation.”

1. Game – No One Wins
(Quality Control)

“Essential for punks and metalheads alike.”

TEN THAT GOT AWAY

Das Drip – Das Drip
(Sorry State)

This one really did get away from me on its August release, shoddy work from a keen advocate of US punk label/record shop Sorry State and, especially, pitched-up breakneck pencilneck abstractly-thrashin’ squigglecore. Personal rashes scratched by the Warm Bodies LP last year have though been inflamed by Das Drip, who like Sorry State are from Raleigh in North Carolina. They don’t really do riffs, their rhythms seem less set on making you open up a pit than tricking you into falling over, and Rach Canning’s vocals have a sort of ‘heard through a megaphone during a protest at the other end of the street’ quality (I’m not going to try and explain why I actually like this). Her bandmates, who’ve also done time in Raleigh stalwarts like ISS and Whatever Brains, supply the hyper-to-heck teen-energy hardcore clang a la Neos or debut-EP Meat Puppets.

Foster Care – El Abuso
(Total Punk)

Total Punk Records with one of its rare forays outside the 45rpm single format, and despite the third album by New York’s Foster Care in fact being total no-foolin’ hardcore, no Trade Descriptions Act is getting invoked in this column – because El Abuso goes way too hard for me to care. Its 19 minutes has a barely-suppressed AmRep type noiserock mentality, with screwy banks of feedback flooding the mix, but Foster Care capture the obnoxious quintessence of the genre like early Poison Idea, The Fix or Nine Shocks Terror did, with the misleadingly-named Chris Teenager having perfected his bilious garble and Jesse Crawford’s bass as heavy and toxic as a flaming tar barrel. Unlikely ‘ex-member’ count: drummer Alison Busch used to be in dandruffy mid-00s retro-rawkers Awesome Color.

Máti – EP
(self-released)

I’m not saying I flipped a coin over two 2019 servings of Greek-language HC blowouts, but another – Antimob from Athens’ second album – was well in the running for the top ten. Máti, meanwhile, are from New York, have two members (of four) of Greek extraction and pressed up their own debut 7-inch of diamond-hard mayhem back in spring. There’s touchstones with the Toxic State Records mutant mentality (Mike Gallant, also of Haram, is on guitar here), but I don’t think anything this metal-hailing has ever sprayed out of that sewer: peep the solo on ‘Παράλυση’, the crossover thrash bludgeon of ‘Ψέματα’ and the righteous use of both on ‘Δεν Σκέφτεσαι’. Heresy in some circles, this, but I rate this EP over any to date by the stylistically and geographically related Warthog.

Payday – Second To None
(Quality Control)

London straight-edge metallic hardcore was never my scene in either an idiomatic or actual sense, but it’s not like I’m immune to the appeal of some of its elements – especially sinisterly plodding drop-tuned guitar parts played by self-evident death metal fans and lyrics about people who are, basically, just complete wankers. Payday, a quartet who’ve been around for three years or so, emit my kinda sXe rage, and this debut album is unvarnished screwface savagery that sounds more like a product of early 90s Cleveland (Integrity and their various fabled peers) than the rap-influenced capital city gristle of Knuckledust et al (although one of the song titles appears to be a Sneakbo reference). Tom Pimlott, probably the most ubiquitous musical figure in UK hardcore, joins as drummer, supplying treetrunk-thick rhythmic frames for Marco Abbatiello’s irate vocal, and recording Second To None with frankly crushing clarity for good measure. The amount of riffs per square inch on this thing has got top boffins bamboozled, I tells ya!

Perra Vida – Eterno Retorno
(Hell Hath No Fury)

Perra Vida emailed a year or so ago asking about a review, which was pretty cool because Peruvian feminist hardcore bands don’t email me as often as I’d like, but by the time their Bandcamp EP came out on 7-inch my eye must have left the ball. The quartet, from Lima, recently released a debut album, thus offering a chance to unflub my past flubs. Eterno Retorno tilts its hat towards ‘punk’ as opposed to ‘hardcore’, in terms of tempo, tone and employment of uplifting woah-ohing backing vox, but this lot are air-punchingly good tunesmiths, with Diana Matos perhaps an even better frontwoman. There’s succour in these ten songs for fans of the Latino punk continuum, early 90s malt liquor-chugging East Bay type bands… and, in ‘Mis Mercenarios’ and ‘Salte De Mi Mente’, Perra Vida’s debut release.

Powerplant – People In The Sun
(Dreamland Syndicate/Erste Theke Tontraeger)

A solo synthpunk project (inflated into a full band for – very entertaining – live performances) devised by Theo Zhykharyev, a Ukrainian living in London, People In The Sun is the debut Powerplant album, allowing for Zhykharyev having recorded one in 2017 and later deciding it wasn’t long enough to count. This, positively epic at over half an hour, came out on tape in early 2019 and got reissued on wax with the help of perma-crucial Germans Erste Theke Tontraeger. What did they hear in it? Maybe the intermingling of minimal synth burble, refining itself into Numanoid swell (‘Classic Evil’ and ‘Take My Money!’ respectively), cleancut new wave (‘Dungen’) and swathes of cheaper-than-yer-life garage keys to prick up ears of all Mummies, Spits and Coneheads connoisseurs. I’m just a lowly enthusiast, though, don’t ask me.

Putzfrau – Demo
(Edger)

This one was a meatless-space version of those olde tyme “I was in a record shop and I’d never heard of them and this was before Google so I just took a chance tell kids today that they won’t believe you” stories. That is to say, I saw a social media post linking to Putzfrau’s streaming platform of choice, no context offered, and an optimistic click on their debut demo knocked me on my situpon. Subsequent research doesn’t unearth much too vital – they’re from Portland, most of them (certainly singer Tai Faux) used to be in a group called Heavy Hands, they’re pretty definitively a Local Band at present – but hardcore breezeblocks like this tape reaffirm why it’s (still) legit to bring nowt new to the subgenre, as long as you’re REALLY FUCKING GOOD. Only one song of eight, the early Hüsker Dü-like ‘Sick Sad World’, lasts over a minute; never are things not full steam ahead, never does Tai sound like she couldn’t suplex you through a table, often am I left thinking that In School should have stuck around longer but that Putzfrau refresh that spirit.

Rakta – Falha Comum
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

Sao Paolo gothic postpunx make an audacious leap from their wall-of-Siouxsie aggro-wigouts to Falha Comum, a seven-song cauldron of dub-punk churn & swirl. Delay is spooned onto delay like a psychedelic sundae; atmospheres can be tonally mournful (‘Estrela da Manhã’) but throb with an invigorating groove; Rakta’s new drummer (Mauricio Takara, a bloody bloke spoiling Rakta’s all-woman attack but bringing some smart jazz underground cred to compensate) brings many styles and much percussive nous to the table. Continuing the work This Heat, Ut and PiL started, and a truly on point live act back in spring too, touring with Brazilian buds Deafkids.

Taiwan Housing Project – Sub-Language Trustees
(Ever/Never)

More superlative out-punk, on the consistently great Ever/Never label (a cue to note that the Chinese Restaurants LP they just released is also essential bizarreness) and located in Philadelphia. Taiwan Housing Project features Mark Feehan, once in Harry Pussy with Bill Orcutt, on guitar, and for a dude who started playing in bands over 35 years ago he sounds overflowing with youthful vinegar, forming a killer axe duo with Kilynn Lunsford, THP’s banshee-brutal vocalist. Something like ‘Buy Buy Buy’, a merciless verbal dismantling of suburban aspirational mores over the most thick-skulled sub-Mudhoney wah-wahnk imaginable, to say nothing of the intermittent sax bleat and trash-sloppy drumming, makes the same sorta case for no wave as Putzfrau do for early 80s hardcore. If you’ve heard and liked the album by Manchester’s Locean I recently reviewed here, you might get a wriggle on to Sub-Language Trustees too, although it’s a bit more punk-compact.

Vidro – Alt Brinner (Kink)

Came out in January, this Stockholmers’ debut LP, and was caught up on by me some time over summer when I saw Vidro had someone called Vendela singing and dared to dream. Say what? Half a decade back, in Straight Hedge, I reviewed a cassette on Matt Baty’s Box label by Queer’d Science, Manc no wave noiserockers with the best up-in-your-coupon vocalist I’d seen in forever – Vendela Engström, who departed the UK some time after. And, it turned out, turned up here. Vidro are a pretty interesting confluence of figures in general, also including a Brazilian, an American and Swedish hardcore OG Staffan Fagerberg, and Alt Brinner is a minor ripper. Its essence is dark, midpaced melodic punk, sure, but the three musicians torpedo this with lakes of chorus pedal, nerve-janglingly atonal solos on cuts like ‘Sista Dagen På Jorden’ and a mix that practically staples your head to the bass drum – all while Engström spits more lava than ever, death, feminism and European borders filtered through her verbiage. File with the Terra Soror, Ubik and Arse releases from punk’s last 12 months. Bonus blare: Vidro’s split tour tape with Brazilian band Cankro is shortly being released on vinyl by Oslo’s Byllepest Records.

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