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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For June
Noel Gardner , June 14th, 2022 06:56

Noel Gardner salutes summer with another clutch of punk, hardcore, crust, oi etc. releases from around the globe. Home page photo: Axe Rash

Leeds hardcore institution The Flex are a decade old as a going concern in 2022, and new release Chewing Gum For The Ears (Static Shock) is their first album for eight years. None of which says a whole lot about how they do: some bands just regroup whenever, maintain lives outside of this and don’t allow themselves to be browbeaten into an arbitrary schedule.

Even so it’s still kinda wild, in a good way, that the five-piece can just drop weird teaser-type tapes at scattered intervals (the last one, from early 2018, featured Chewing Gum demo songs with a view to releasing the full thing later that year) and still be UKHC scene royalty whose gigs spark guaranteed lunkhead mosh mania.

Both a callback to and upgrade on each of their previous releases, this LP’s brickwall gruffness and gang-tight belligerence pinballs between the sound of early 80s Boston and late 80s NYC, with flashes of Japanese hardcore guitar wheedle (the crowning title track, which closes the record) and the disputed territory between Oi! and UK82.

Produced with buzzsaw clarity by James Atkinson, Chewing Gum For The Ears is a model of hardcore punk efficiency down to songs’ intros, outros and the very brief spaces between: even if this sort of thing isn’t your thing, it feels impossible to make a credible case for how The Flex might have done this one any better.

If the above album gestures towards metallic power while never sounding like anything but a hardcore opus, Mastermind from London inch towards crossover thrash territory on The Master’s Orders (Quality Control), their debut 12" following a few singles and demo tapes. Thad King’s basslines are dense, scrabbly things that form a suitable bedrock for Jon Osborne’s faintly absurd vocals while Karim Newble is afforded leeway (or Leeway) to unfurl scrumptious riff-salad solos.

Mastermind is very much a London scene band as regards their personnel, and as much as you can take it as read these eight songs are built for the pit, their structure is often surprisingly awkward: weird, even. Guitar pyro enters and leaves at unexpected points, with sections on ‘Inside Joke’, ‘Old Hat’ and others revelling in mersh-metal cleanness; rhythms jar and beguile (‘Haunt’ is an odd jigsaw indeed) and if I’d call The Master’s Orders more of a lurch sideways from their 2019 EP than a step up, I’m feeling it harder. Their NYHC influences are pretty much public record, but Mastermind’s levity and angle of attack remind me of The Accüsed as much as anyone.

Despite stiff competition, June’s award for most preposterous vocal performance goes to Rigorous Institution front-thing Savonarola – a pseudonym, I fancy, amidst a lineup also claiming a bassist named Shite – on Cainsmarsh (Black Water), the Portland band’s debut album. Imagine a cross between a Hanna-Barbera cartoon baddie, the Francis E. Dec letter readings and Jaz Coleman, and you’ll be on your way there. Moreover, it’s entirely suitable for this half-hour of industrialised crustpunk apocalyptica, which is one of my favourite releases of the year so far and unlikely to sound much like anything else you’ll hear during it.

Sonically murky in some respects, with guitar and bass coagulating noisepunkishly, Rigorous Institution’s addition of Hawkwind-into-black metal synth parts supplies an extra dimension and then some: without them, joints like ‘Ergot’ and ‘Earthrise’ might as well be different songs. They can still rustle up standout muscleman riffs, mind – the title track’s some plundering, blundering Motörgoth exemplariness and ‘Laughter’ swings its axe with the mechanical stiffness of Godflesh if they’d recorded for the Hardcore Unlawful Assembly compilation. Rigorous Institution may not even care whether you like Cainsmarsh or not, but have made something with horizons well beyond their immediate PDX-scene crust-lifer environs. Perhaps it’ll find an audience to match, too.

“But what is in fact your favourite cosmic synth part on any record in this month’s column?” hollers the sound of no fucker asking, and the answer is the Jarre-headed intro to ‘SRO’, a six-minute dazzler found in the middle of Gospel’s The Loser (Dog Knights Productions). Song and album alike give the impression that this New York group took ‘As Far As You Can Throw Me’, the last track on their last record, as a jump off point for how this one’d sound – standard enough move, except the record in question came out 17 years ago and the members have barely made music since individually, let alone together.

Circa 2005, the American screamo underground that harboured Gospel was far more substantive than today, but the band were misunderstood outliers in it (their cachet has inflated in their absence, like many bands from that scene). Peers might have weaved post rock or even jazz into their music to signify chops; The Moon Is A Dead World was ripe with synths and prog time signatures, and this is accentuated on The Loser at every turn.

‘Bravo’, as an LP opener, is itself a tad misdirecting, Adam Dooling’s bloodshot howls and the arena-worthy drumming of Vincent Roseboom amounting to something like Oxbow meets King Crimson. Later, Gospel work brisker tempos – there’s a 30-second stretch during the aptly titled ‘Hyper’ where at least three members end or begin speedrun solos – and with Kurt Ballou their studiohand there’s perpetually a bite that precludes this being mistakable for an authentic 70s prog record (isolated component parts could be, sure). Lurid and florid in much of its sound design, The Loser is nevertheless lean and economical in many ways, few of any given song’s multiple sections feeling superfluous or overstretched. Pretty remarkable return on a few levels – now Gospel just need to go out and replicate it night after night in cruddy venues routed by an overambitious Euro booking agent.

“Yes, it is one person,” pouts a message on the insert for Peace De Résistance’s debut LP, underneath a picture of him. “No, there will be no shows.” The self-released Bits And Pieces couldn’t be re-enacted onstage by Moses Brown alone, but even with – doubtlessly – a bevy of sympathisers who’d assist if asked, there’s a poetic suitability to this inspired stumble-strut of outsider glam staying in loner-downer realms.

Brown has played in two other groups of note: the hardcore-styled Glue and Institute, anarchogoth in a (Frankenstein’d) word but with a sight more going on. Reading back my five-year-old review of their Subordination LP, the protopunk and psych touches mentioned feel like clues into Peace De Résistance’s tip. It’s rarely if ever heavy in a rock sense – ‘Boston Dynamics’, which starts us off, feels kinda like The Deviants and is about as thudding as we go – but makes keen use of a lo-fi setup and fuzz that spreads like a gas leak.

If Bits And Pieces appears to be reaching back half a century in its chief inspirations, namely Lou Reed, Bowie and Iggy Pop’s most glamrockin’ turns, the lyrical fixations are pointedly up to date. In addition to ‘Don’t 1099 Me’ and ‘End Of The Night’, both concerning America’s appalling conditions for low-security employees, Brown mulls intrusive and/or dystopian technology. ‘Boston Dynamics’ refers to that company’s ill-judged robot cop dogs; ‘Heard Your Voice’ and ‘Alphabet Au Pair’ lament the grip of vocal command software. “I can’t get rid of my au pair!” frets the latter, referring to Alexa. Not to be that guy, but it’s actually very easy.

Grace Ambrose’s consistently thrilling label Thrilling Living returns after a year-plus of dormancy with a tape by New Orleans’ Malflora. Named after a lesbophobic Spanish/Chicano slang term, this trio’s intentions in that respect can be inferred by the presence of Maria Elena Delgado, also of queer-rage ravepunk world beaters Special Interest (another member of whom, Ruth Mascelli, co-produced this EP). Malflora are completed by Crow Lopez and California transplant Shaggy Denton, and Mama I’m Bad is thoroughly good, if wavey and humid, snakey punky no wave skronk.

While evidently rhythm junkies, in that the guitar is as in service of a groove as much as the bass or drums, Malflora’s danceable nature isn’t presented on a plate like Special Interest’s is. String-originated sounds judder, stab or cluck atonally, the beats flit between tom-heavy freak outs and jazzier cymbal workouts, and the vocals sound like cries of protest heard through a dimensional portal. If you consider Sonic Youth to have peaked in their first half-decade, you should definitely latch on to this mob – which isn’t to suggest taking a raincheck should your opinion differ – while more recent touchstones for Mama I’m Bad’s grizzly blare include Oakland’s No Babies, Manchester’s Queer’d Science and a fair few other acts in the Thrilling Living orbit, including Ambrose’s own Neon.

Toxic State Records, over in New York, have been relatively low-key in 2022 save for releasing a new single by the steadfastly singles-only Warthog (cutaway review: it’s “banging” and “sounds like Warthog”) but have knocked out a few debut tapes by bands made up of people from other NYC bands. As is the case with basically everything they release. I’m most taken with these four songs by Ataque Subliminal, Spanish-language punk ratatata that keys itself up into pogo mode but doesn’t scrimp on the melodies.

‘Máquinas Deseantes’ could be called ‘driving’ once its twangy intro is coupled to rushes of power chords and the busy-not-showy drumming of Corey Rose, previously of G.L.O.S.S. ‘Organos Sin Querpo’ enters, speeds up as Steph Pettit’s crackingly barebones guitar – imagine Delta 5 playing the Circle Jerks, or vice versa; go on, try it! – takes hold, then slows down to menacing effect. ‘Diva Nicotina’ is the fastest number on the tape, frontwoman Virginia maintaining her vocal snark, and ‘Te Odio (De Corazón)’ is a little slinkier and post punkier, with an exceedingly sweet guitar break and backing vox from some or all of Ataque Subliminal’s instrumentalists.

Bucking the cost of living crisis, readers unfortunate enough to live in Britain can get this Therapy / Axe Rash split 7-inch from Manchester’s Prejudice Me for four quid! Plus the exact cost of postage! You don’t even have to pay for the card envelope! Talk about your #hotukdeals – and yes, the music is good too. Stockholm’s Axe Rash have already released a single this year (and are also touring the UK in July); their two songs reaffirm the case for an innately ‘Swedish sound’ in hardcore that has arguably existed for as long as 40 years. ‘Ostrich Man’ is lit up by a hard rock hellion guitar tone while ‘Lucky We’re Punks’ is more directly post-Discharge/Anti-Cimex, and thematically a total embrace of the gumby punk lifestyle.

Therapy come from San Diego and have a rocking take on crust punk with occasional stylistic divergences – shades of perennially popular Portlanders Tragedy, at points, but with less blowsy metal leads and more noise rock chunka guitars and near-psychedelically wildin’ solos (‘A Wish For’). Therapy vocalist Chris McQueen has been hospitalised with leukaemia since this record came out, and in the absence of a health service there’s a GoFundMe here if you wish to assist.

Heaven, from Austin, are a Mk.2 version of a pre-pandemic band named Boofin Tylenol: there is in fact a large middle ground between names that have been used far too many times and ones nobody in their right mind would use, but it’s not my place to point people towards it. Anyway, Iron Lung have released Starless Midnight, Heaven’s debut seven, and as you might expect the quartet take themselves a little more seriously now.

Five songs, the last two segued together, collectively have that 80s weirdo-hardcore sound nailed down as firmly as the sound itself is wriggly and unpinnable. You might catch a glob of Die Kreuzen in the guitars of ‘Indoctrination’ and ‘Dead And The Living’, or more contemporaneously recall that Mentira LP Iron Lung released last year, although Heaven’s rhythm section drags the sound towards something more straight-bat – and ‘Disease’ has a mean chuggy intro fit for highly destructive dancefloor moves, even with the deathrock-like squeal-tone accompanying it. Lyrics are grab-bags of hyperbolic imagery in the best way and it’s just an all-round great record which reveals something new with every listen. Oh, and some of Heaven also play in Chronophage, whose new album is on Bandcamp now and might have also been reviewed if it didn’t sound like a mid-80s indie record (NB I like it).

Meanwhile, as I big up their second tape Distributed Lethality (Noise Merchant), Tom, Matt, Jack and Dan from Flesh Creep remain essentially unknown quantities to me. A Birmingham hardcore unit, they seem to have had a web presence for about nine months and played with a list of bands whose variety (The Chisel, beatdown Londoners Prowler, mildly hyped Americans S.P.Y) suggests they’ve not definitively found ‘their’ scene yet. I mean, you don’t need to, really!

These four songs are a little more polished than their late-2021 debut Endless Violence, production-wise – I’m compelled here to shoehorn in a mention for an engineer credited as Stale Winton – but wear it well, with go-for-broke tempos giving way to sections of dragging moshability. At various points I clock flashes of swinging Black Flag-type HC, crust punk and even supercharged rock & roll a la the Dwarves; Tom Patrick’s lozenge-worthy vocal style has a bit of Chris Colohan, of Cursed and other Canadian outfits, about it, and Flesh Creep aren’t aeons away musically either. Good gear, minimal context, hope to catch a show soon.