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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For April
Noel Gardner , April 13th, 2022 08:32

Do you feel lucky punk? Well do you? That's good, because Noel Gardner is back with more of the stuff you love. Home page photo: Romero

In a chapter of Straight Hedge largely given over to debut albums, if not debut releases of any kind, NYC two-piece Straw Man Army are in the unlikely position of being the most solidly established name present. SOS, jointly issued though their own D4MT Labs and London’s La Vida Es Un Mus, is their second LP – third if you include a soundtrack to a possibly imaginary film, released last year on cassette – and develops their sound in a way that charms in the present and bodes well for the future.

Ironic, as SOS is something of a concept album about our planet’s grim immediate prospects. This, at least, is on brand with the hand-on-heart anarcho aesthetic Straw Man Army – Owen Deutsch and Sean Fentrix – introduced on Age Of Exile, a 2020 LP rereleased a few months ago on LVEUM. The imagery and phrasing that comprises their lyrics is poetic and evocative, but concise and seemingly designed to be memorable – maybe even written on jackets.

Instrumentally speaking, where Age was frenetic and scratchy in a Messthetics-via-Bullshit Detector way, SOS is decidedly more soaring and rock-centric: skip to ‘State Of The Art’ or ‘Underhand’ for evidence. This may invite comparisons, if not necessarily the attendant audience, which take Straw Man Army outside of DIY punk confines. ‘Human Kind’ reminds me a bit of The Van Pelt and a smaller bit of the current sprechgesang post punk wave – I can just about imagine SMA being fans of the aforementioned band – and drops in these lush acoustic guitar parts which the song doesn’t need but which improve it considerably. ‘Simple Cure’ and ‘Beware’, insouciant collegiate guitar struts both, could have been plucked from a mid-90s Matador Records release, which I certainly intend as a compliment but represents a drift from this project’s initial moorings.

Meadow Flower (Tough Love/Feel It) is the first LP and second release overall by another duo, Seattle’s Star Party, and with eight songs in 18 minutes gets me right in the “in my day you’d have had to either call this a mini-album or record some more songs” feels. Eh but seriously, it’s a very likeable record that manages a somewhat original spin on fuzzbuzz indiepop, a style which has not exactly insisted on innovation for the last, oh, 35 years or so.

A standout name in Star Party’s short list of professed inspirations is Confuse, a 1980s Japanese band whose extreme incorporation of feedback effectively coined a whole subgenre, noisepunk. Armed with this knowledge, it’s possible to grok it amidst the other ingredients of Meadow Flower, which jangles wistfully, warbles distractedly and, thanks to the drum machine employed by warbler Carolyn Brennan and jangler Ian Corrigan, thuds mechanically. This is music that wants your patronage, but is perfectly prepared to gouge the ears – in the opening seconds of opening song ‘You And Me’, and the coda of the concluding ‘A Trip Home’.

Corrigan’s whaling/wailing pushes ‘Push You Aside’ from chipper punk-pop into primo Dinosaur Jr territory, but Brennan is every bit as much the driver of uptempo punkers ‘Shot Down’ and the ramalama ‘No Excuse’. Star Party looks to be her first group of note, while Brennan’s bandmate has useful form in Vexx and Gen Pop, both also from the Pacific northwest. Don’t doubt Meadow Flower will accrue indie pop love – should’ve done already – but there’s a side to their schtick that stomps rather than shambles.

The debut EP from Erupt has every chance of being top ten fodder for this columnist chancer come December – it’s streaked ahead in the ‘agreeable description’ stakes for sure. Geezers from three of my favourite bands in the last decade playing oily-denim tankard-raising riff mania that’d make the meekest wallflower want to crush a grape? Inject Left To Rot (Static Shock/Cool Death) into my marrow! Erupt are fronted (and guitarred) by Al Smith, also of psychedelic hardcore lords Geld; the rhythm section comprises Alessandro Coco, whose star turn for my money was in the brief, glorious Gutter Gods, and Kyle Seely, best known as a member of Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag but who joined Erupt while living in Melbourne last year.

All those bands are fun as fuck and I’d be willing to bet this one is funner, to play in, than the lot: there’s nowt goofy about Erupt’s type of punk metal, even when the instrumental breaks approach upturned-baseball-cap crossover thrash territory, it’s just a dream assignment for anyone situated on extreme metal’s grimy fringes. ‘Shinin’ Claymore’ might ‘sound Japanese’ but we could as well be talking Death Side as Abigail here; ‘Coward’, which closes the 7-inch, is like a more fucked up Black Breath with extra GISM/Lizzy/Bad Brains guitar wheedle. Smith demonises his Geld vocal style by 66.6% and spends the same proportion of time ripping gonzo solos, Seely goes big on the rolling toms to let us know the barbarians are at the gate. Huge release!

The debut album by Romero is also a Melbourne scene artefact, and is also released by Cool Death, in conjunction with – again! – Feel It. Moreover, and while the paths taken by them and Erupt diverge sharply once you hit play, Turn It On! goes some way to breaching the gap left while Sheer Mag haven’t been releasing music. Neither party would appreciate the inference that Romero are a Mag imitation, and to be clear they aren’t, but Alanna Oliver sings of relatable woes with tearjerking defiance and keg-sized lungs, while the four backup gentlemen kick out a bubbly chowder of powerpop, heartland rock, protopunk and 60s soul.

By the time penultimate number ‘White Dress’ has asserted itself through a guitar sound distinctly resembling the Manic Street Preachers, that common question – “aren’t you just covering this because of its origins, rather than what it sounds like?” – has reared its head. Daresay so, yes! And I’ll do it again. At their choppiest, ‘Neapolitan’ or 2020 debut single ‘Honey’ perhaps (all Romero’s three previously released songs feature here), they’re like early Blondie meets Ted Leo. Guitarists Adam Johnstone and Fergus Sinclair are often both effectively on rhythm duty, befitting that nails-hard soul sound the band sometimes pursue, but can equally tease out none-more-dad solos. One thing I dig about Romero is being able to imagine a second album going in any of several directions, having no idea which is most plausible, and being psyched for any. Guess that’s technically three things.

Tales Of Torment (Heavy Machinery/Tee Pee) by Rot TV concludes our Melbourne scene report, and if you want your (mostly) Australians to sound Australian, then this debut album will surely give you enough trope. These characters are given to bar-fight boogie in the Coloured Balls proto-metal style and punk rock & roll a la Radio Birdman: a cover of the Kinks’ ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ salutes the band themselves, obviously, but also the greatness done to their sound by oiks worldwide, booting dents in the panelling.

Rot TV, who claim to have begun life as a Blue Öyster Cult tribute band, are a five-piece including a married couple. Harriet Hudson-Clise was plain Harriet Hudson last time I encountered her, fronting Miss Destiny, whose 2016 album I will advocate as a lost classic to anyone; Graham Clise is a transplanted American whose riff-salad punk credentials – Annihilation Time; J Mascis’ Witch – are matched by few. Give the person or event that hooked ‘em up a gold watch because Tales is an exquisite assembly of attitude: killer open-road solos, vox that can recall Ann Wilson and Debbie Harry in the same line, bug-eyed pub-thrash clatterers like every Stiff Records act from 76-78 playing at once. Maybe a few Status Quo moments or ‘Quoments’ here and there (‘Stone’), too. It’s so nice when people make records just for me, and without me even asking!

Buenos Aires bleep-punx Desborde have a new tape EP on Stourbridge’s hard-duplicating Noise Merchant label, or Painters Tapes from Detroit if you live in the States, or Yeah You! if you’re Brazilian and/or want it on flexidisc for some reason. Its predecessor, 2021’s Ya No Quiere Ser Parte De Este Mundo, was released with the aid of at least seven labels – global community, baby! – and was a bit longer than Todo Es Una Mierda, which stuffs five songs into as many minutes.

Plenty replay value in this wee trinket, fortunately, which modifies the sound of Ya No a little while still combining sonics in a cheerfully unorthodox way. The first two songs are hardcore-brief, at 48 and 37 seconds respectively, and street-punk gobby, but are embellished by arcade-game electronic pings and frothy keyboard interludes. ‘Panico!’ is sort of early 80s beach bum hardcore, except with electronics, and the more-or-less instrumental ‘365’ suggests that where before Desborde had little interest in sounding like the fabled synth punk daddies (Screamers, Devo), they can pull that off if desired.

The nine songs on Soft Torture’s self-titled cassette is their introduction to the world, certainly if you live outside their home city of Philadelphia, and it’s the most invigorating hybrid of avian squawk and reptile wriggle I’ve heard since that Warm Bodies album a few years back. That means flash-fast, deft and unpredictable weirdcore arrangements on the perma-verge of a chaotic collapse but held together on a wing, a prayer and all three musicians being on top of their game – and the vocalist chuntering through it all like an office worker who likes to spend her lunch break losing her mind.

Jess Nicho, the vocalist in question, doesn’t appear to have any past bands on Googleable record but decidedly elevates what would have still been a great EP – her distracted rant style, as noted, and also lyrics that have a bit to say (mulling abusive relationships on ‘S.E.R.E.’, for example) and do so with clever spatters of cadence, assonance and wordplay. The tape’s shortest song, ‘2021’, is a thematically updated cover of ‘1983’ by Philly hardcore icons YDI: a nod to the presence of that band’s bassist, Chuck Meehan, in the Soft Torture lineup too. Respect to a lifer! And for that matter to drummer Aaron Muchanic, who’s stuck this out on his own, consistently interesting label World Gone Mad.

One of the members of Leeds’ The Reflecting Skin has described this very new band as a “pissed-up NYE conversation [turned] into reality,” and without even caring to look I am positive many groups reviewed in here down the years began in the same way. Self-deprecating as this might be, this debut tape isn’t exactly riddled with yuks: five songs of flesh-flaying shit-fidelity sloth-churn on the tip of Drunks With Guns, Total Abuse and Ride For Revenge depending on whether The Reflecting Skin feel like being mouth-breathers, violent or evil. There’s a half-minute song, ‘Split Wires‘, bringing 80s noisecore levels of incomprehensibility and a six-and-a-half-minute one, ‘Nocturnal Cough’, bedbug-bitten bassline-driven Brainbombs neg-psych to a T. Soft Issues’ Chris Robinson makes a welcome return to NSH on the mic here, joined by Jake Sainty (also of The Shakamoto Investigation with Sam Horton, aka star of the last column Secret Agent Headcheese) and George Chadwick from noise rock duo Belk.

With Iron Lung’s reissue of Bestial Hardcore, the 2021 debut demo by Gaoled, we are back in Australia, indeed back in Perth whose punk scene I was admiring just a column ago. This quartet, who get off on the good foot with their correct spelling of ‘jailed’, represent the more noisome and punishing hardcore end of the city: see, also, the Televised Suicide label and city elders Extortion.

These six songs are lashed together from power violence – the stuff that can be torture-slow as well as whiplash-fast, say Man Is The Bastard – crust noise trailblazers like Lebenden Toten, and sludge metal bands a la Grief who deal in pure nihilism rather than drawings of bongs. Ben Docherty yanks out an especially triumphant metal punk guitar solo on ‘Lined’ and ‘Voices’, the inevitable closing ‘epic’ (slightly under three minutes) performs all Gaoled’s tricks to delightful, reverb-peppered effect.

Another 2021 demo makes its way to tape some months on: this time it’s Layback from London, with Bobby Cole from The Annihilated’s label Brainrotter putting in the extra work. The five members aren’t total new jacks – drummer Ben Woolf was playing in Blind Authority nearly a decade ago – but there’s a sense that the approximate grouping that called itself the New Wave Of British Hardcore has thinned, as such groupings do, and bands like Layback, The Annihilated, Mastermind, maybe Nekra constitute the, uh, NWONWOBHC. (Thanks, I hate it.)

Getting back to the point, this six-song demo is a fine hello: emotionally hefty but with a goofy undercurrent in its interludes and outros, broadly mid-paced as hardcore goes with some impressive juddering bass runs on ‘Back In The Bits’ and others. Multiple occurrences of pinch harmonic guitar and, on tape closer ‘Moment In The Air’, a windswept radio metal vibe, remind me a little of Leeds’ (late lamented?) Implement. Brainrotter’s sales spiel invokes the late 80s Californian scene relating to Nemesis Records, and that feels right – a hardcore sound that didn’t quite fit into extant boxes (hectoring straightedge, metallic crossover, emo, skatecore) but ended up meaning a lot to those who were there.