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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For May
Noel Gardner , May 20th, 2021 07:34

Noel Gardner is back with all of your punk, HC, oi, crust & power violence needs for Spring. Home page photograph: Silent

No identifiable theme running through the ten selections in 2021’s third Straight Hedge, nor event, trend or passing fancy I’d expect to make for a suitable introduction, but as ever it’s delightful to be able to find top quality content (theirs, not mine) with plenty left out. Content variously comprising brand new ventures, previously celebrated figures reborn, necessary reaches into the archive U-bend and, to begin, the new album by a band who I coulda/ shoulda reviewed a good few releases ago.

Rata Negra are from Madrid and most of their releases have come out on London label La Vida Es Un Mus – including Una Vida Vulgar, their third LP. The three-piece have a taste for melody (indeed, more so now than before) that distinguishes them from most of LVEUM’s catalogue, but an occasional injection of soulfully punked new wave, guitars chiming insistently and basslines shuffling moodily, can be the soothing balm you didn’t know you needed.

The label’s Bandcamp page enlists Sean Forbes of Hard Skin for a glowing writeup paying special attention to Una Vida Vulgar’s production. With good cause: it’s pitch-perfect, intricate if unsmooth and with cute touches like the manipulated backing vocals in opener ‘Venid A Ver’. Violeta Terroba, Rata Negra’s lead singer, has a sort of good/bad cop routine with herself, switching registers and levels of menace in a trice. ‘Cuando Me Muera’ is beatific indiepop, the sort of thing you’d expect to be released on Madrid’s Elefant Records, but RN’s more sinewy, less pillowy side is in full effect, with a Memphis garage rock holler lurking and the stamp of Cali punk tunesmiths like the Adolescents and Agent Orange in abundance. ‘En La Playa’ or ‘Lo Sublime’, with its decorative space FX, could practically be The Rezillos; Rata Negra are top of MY pops, I can tell you.

New York’s Dollhouse, whose four-song 7-inch The First Day Of Spring (Toxic State) follows a 2019 demo tape, are not entirely tune-averse: ‘The Shadow Baby’ shrugs off an introductory blurt of feedback to become a sour-hearted pogopunk toetapper, and the closing title track features what sounds suspiciously like an acoustic guitar. This element is, though, an umbrella against an airstrike: these are an unusually wretched and depressing entity. In a good way, like.

We have encountered frontman Mike Caiazzo before in Mommy, another group formed of Toxic State’s scene sprawl and authors of a purportedly autobiographical, certainly uncomfortable mid-2010s LP. Dollhouse, where the vocalist is joined by Mommy bandmate Tye Miller as well as Hank Wood and Margaret Chardiet (best known for the Hammerheads and Pharmakon respectively), is touted as the second volume of Caiazzo’s memoirs. Once a troubled child, we now learn of the presumed fallout from that, with recollections of hospital wards, eating disorders, bereavement and distrust of others. ‘Die So Pretty’, from its title on, is laden with lines one could imagine Sharpied onto army surplus jackets – though is too chaotic a gutterpunk gibber to fulfil any teen-alt potential. Perhaps for the best.

Descolonizar (Discos Enfernos), by Argentinians Farmaco and again a hard wax debut in the wake of an initial demo, is such a major step up you might find it hard to believe it’s the same group of musicians on both releases. At least, that’s what their vocalist Denise, or Cromi as she’s credited on this EP, reckons in an interview I read. As a lowly listener, I think this overstates it mildly – both Farmaco efforts to date reveal them as enthusiastic guzzlers of Japanese hardcore at its most riff-happy and dramatic – but Descolonizar is noticeably more metal-slanted, with a couple of long-for-the-genre track durations allowing space to solo and generally puff out their collective chest. A plaintive minor chord intro to ‘Descolonizar’ the track sets out such a stall, despite only taking up about 25 seconds of its three minutes before being subjected to a Death Side-styled wipeout; ‘Sulfato’, all four and a half minutes of it, layers creepsville guitar over rumbling feedback then goes hell for metalpunk leather. Check out Denise’s other, part-Chilean band Inyeccion too: the tape they recently released is malformed noisepunk perfection.

Beginning a three-strong salvo of lockdown-era bands’ debut tapes with Dublin duo Special Branch. Their Lethal Force cassette is sold out from PMT, who released it, but you might find it elsewhere and if you don’t it still provokes ruckus from inside your computer, clearly. A duo, in this strained moment at least, Eddie Kenrick plays everything and Andy McSharry barks over it; the former was in The Number Ones, the latter Disguise, and both Crowd Control, which adds up to fine Irish punk pedigree.

The lyrics make pointed reference to the darker side of the country’s history, too: ‘Hiring Fair’ (“Sleep in the barn/ Amongst the feed”); Magdalene Laundries on ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ (“We approve the abuse/ Of the fallen women”); and, on the title track, Garda brutality with a namecheck for the case of Terence Wheelock. It’s truth-to-powerful stuff, Kenrick’s arrangements more than doing it proud with simmering, murky streetpunk-meets-hardcore – think recent UK names like Arms Race or Gutter Knife, with a Swedish mangel undercurrent. Really hope Special Branch becomes a full band and kicks this out live, whenever the public at large are judged to only be dangers to themselves.

Can Kicker’s self-released five-song tape doesn’t have lyrics supplied, so one is reduced to prodding in the dark, via slivers of vocalist Luke Penny’s more comprehensible lines, to surmise their deal. “I thought you were my friend… I’ve got to get out… Killing you, killing me…” – this is familiar hardcore rhetoric, no doubt. That’s fine though! Not least because Can Kicker have hit on an unconventional, nay freaky sound across this nine minutes, every element fighting to be heard and succeeding. Perpetually riddled with buzzing amp overload, guitars can either nudge the turbosplatter of Meat Puppets and Rudimentary Peni’s earliest joints or indulge in some relatively epic post punk/goth biz; I even get an unlikely Dinosaur Jr vibe from ‘Desire’. A Cardiff band founded in 2020 while members’ other ensembles either folded or hibernated, Can Kicker are the sum of parts including Glib (who I reviewed a year or so back), Disjoy and Shishū. Their wilderness year was more productive than mine, evidently, and – heads up – they’re talking of an LP already, so colour me pumped.

The first fruits of Casing arrives via Superfi Records’ sublabel Tapes Of Wrath, or Anthems Of The Undesirable in the US, and is a solo concern of London dweller Alec Tullio. Also a member of Maladia, who I’ve reviewed before but whose new 12-inch on La Vida is belting, and Zek, whose metalpunk churn is approved though so far unfeatured, Casing’s six-song Patterns Of Deterioration is a vehicle for Tullio’s noisy grind inclinations. Noisy grind in this case meaning (it could mean fairly different things to different folks) post-post-Swans cerebral oddball types like Column Of Heaven, Iron Lung, Man Is The Bastard if we step outside strict genre parameters… one band Casing really recall for me is Wölfbait, another Dublin DIY product and authors of two breathtaking tapes of sludged extremity almost a decade back. We’re talking gurglingly downtuned basslines foremost in the mix, stop-start clubswinger riffs that pick up speed and fly by ya, bursts of grotty-yet-spacey electronics and a lengthy whack of dialogue from I don’t know where on final track ‘Inspired By The Cruel Soil’.

It feels nice to review something on the Three One G label, founded in the 90s by Justin Pearson of The Locust (among several other acts), if only because their favoured strain of tight-trousered squiggly absurdism was very much my jam back in the day. If there was ever a 31G ‘sound’, an idea Pearson would probably refute, it’s inaudible in their recent releases, but that’s no slight against Modern Hate, the second LP by Mexican goth titans Silent.

From the city of Mexicali, spitting distance from President Trump’s triumphantly impenetrable border wall – more on that in a tick – the four-piece don’t have especially head-turning past credits, although vocalist Jung Sing featured in All Leather, a digi-punk type thing again devised by Pearson. This album, five years in the making, is however a rightly self-confident deathrock gem: apparently inspired, as per its title and that of longest track ‘Hands On The Wall’, by the creeping experience of being swamped by a Trumpist dystopia. Truth be told, you might be too caught up in its velveteen heft to get as angry as you oughta, spot-on production emphasising its forbidding toms and basslines gleaming bright enough to fry ants. With a Killing Joke vibe lurking near-perpetually, and ‘Hands’ tipping over into something like space rock, Silent are more explicitly rockist than most things reviewed herein, but are well worthy of a seat at the table with the best goth-punk revivalists north of that border.

Bronzed, from Leeds, play danceable noise seasick & sassy enough to pass for a lost 31G band of the early 00s. Consider me on board! Their self-released debut tape also kicks off a column-closing trio of archive-ish releases. Meaning – in their case – these three songs were released on Bandcamp on autumn 2019, missed my attention until they made cassettes a few weeks ago and I liked it so much I demanded (to myself) it was included. ‘Prenup’ starts with an obnoxious squealing pig of a guitar, tainted with the ghosts of old Six Finger Satellite and Arab On Radar produce – and Nirvana’s ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’. Then comes a really quite swish post-disco beat, call it the 6FS > Juan Maclean pipeline if you like, and a riff that sounds like it’s being dragged back into a tornado, a production touch Bronzed apparently favour as it also features on ‘Trenton’ and ‘Latex’, tracks two and three. Featuring heads from recently kaput two-drummer funboys Cattle plus someone from the proggier Physics House Band, Bronzed are far from easy listening but conceal everyday appeal inside their jolting grooves.

A reissue of 1984’s Disease Is Relative, the sole LP released by Spike In Vain during their three active years, indicates the Ohio band were post punk enthusiasts, and an illuminating, recently published interview backs up the eau de Talking Heads I got from ‘E.K.G.’, one of 13 songs on this very cool and quietly revered record. It’s nothing like a straight rip of Byrne and co., mind, its odd-funk lope building to a fierce peak closer to the Big Boys and collapsing into a baffling scribble of a guitar solo.

Spike In Vain, from the Cleveland city limits and on the fringe of any codified scene to boot, sometimes get tagged as ‘outsider hardcore’ or similar; the concept of outsiderdom within a subculture that supposedly serves the needs of outsiders can get pretty, uh, Schrödinger-y, but this album’s lineup – Robert Griffin, Bruce Allen and brothers Andrew and Chris Marec – stumbled on a highly distinctive sound. The quartet swapped instruments from song to song, and Disease’s rhythms, cadences and motifs sound drawn from a deep pool: Cale/Hamill 70s art nihilism, late 70s proto no wave, No Trend’s assaultive contempt, Black Flag’s ‘Damaged I’, jittering Brits like Zounds and the Cravats… every time you think you’ve pinned doing what SIV were about, they change it up, and it’s engrossing. A second LP, Death Drives A Cadillac, was recorded but went unreleased until now; both are freshly available via longrunning Ohio indie Scat, founded by Griffin a few years after Spike In Vain disbanded.

Finally, and again zoned in on 1984 – a year of worldwide upheaval in hardcore among other things – is Agony 憎悪 Remains, an LP-length collection by Zouo from Osaka. The single 7-inch they released is perennial Japanese punk collectorbait, likely to sell for the thick end of £500; its four tracks are joined by two more from a V/A comp, Hardcore Unlawful Assembly, and nine live songs which vary in quality but include some released for the first time in any form. American metal biggies Relapse Records are releasing this, having done a straight reissue of Detestation by Tokyo’s GISM late last year and so perhaps testing the water for how much mileage there is in dredging this scene.

Offering less “what the fuck am I listening to” factor than GISM, as does most music, the Discharge-inspired Zouo nevertheless ladle on the unorthodoxy. Their six studio songs are all between three and five minutes long, epic by hardcore metrics, and a metal-plated good time is had within, as titles ‘Sons Of Satan’ and ‘Making Love With Devil’ suggest. The growlpuke vocals and nutbar soloing of the first of those, especially, stack up with post-Venom bands of the era like Hellhammer and Bulldozer… and then there’s ‘You Like It That Way’, one of the two comp cuts, which morphs from rusty-razor Motörchug into burbly horror-psych and wholly gratuitous phaser usage. ‘Frustration’, the other, opens with a whistling solo more suited to a bread advert. A funny band in both senses, and one whose enduring power can be measured in megatons.

As with the Spike In Vain LP, Agony 憎悪 Remains is released concurrently with a related album: 4 死 Death, unveiling Zouo vocalist Cherry Nishida’s new band Struggling Harsh Immortals. It’s on a sort of early 90s industrial metal tip, like Optimum Wound Profile or someone, and I wouldn’t call it essential but the Zouo berserker mentality rings pleasingly out.