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Noel's Straight Hedge

Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For March
Noel Gardner , March 12th, 2024 11:10

Noel Gardner's punk and HC roundup returns, taking him from Chicago to Barcelona, Melbourne and beyond. Homepage photo: Coax

Sometimes you hear a record and fall hard for it, and one of the things you’re thinking about it is that it “transcends its genre”. Unfortunately, you have also wasted a huge part of your life reading crappy music reviews and therefore know that these sorts of phrases are red flags for inane observations from dilettantes. How to proceed? Maybe by coming out the gate and saying that Behind The Concrete Veil (Mendeku Diskak), the debut album by Chicago’s Lost Legion, is a front-to-back object lesson in how to make a modern Oi! record, and that the many components that aren’t entirely textbook examples of the genre – which transcend it, even – in no way serve to water down the final product.

On record, Lost Legion are a duo, lead vocalist Ian Wise sharing instruments with bandmate Dave Fortunato. ‘War Machine’, which opens this LP, has bass-first arrangements on the verses and nasally punkabilly guitar breaks that skew closer to decorated Chicago veterans Naked Raygun; although that feel doesn’t evaporate, Behind…’s subsequent nine songs deliver more of the boots-and-braces good stuff.

Let me count the ways I love Lost Legion, specifically during this 25 minutes: Wise’s melodies that soar to the point of bombast, even while the actual sound is clipped and minimal; the fact this album sounds so great despite (in fact, likely because of) the singer recording it himself; ‘Disposed’, which has great, layered shimmers of gothic guitar and updates the workers-against-the-bosses lyrical trope for the actual age we live in; sections, fleeting or otherwise, that remind me of Leatherface or the Misfits or Joy Division or Stiff Little Fingers or Institute without – to reiterate this point – making the whole some inconclusive halfway house of a thing.

Overdue shine given to Hacker from Melbourne on the occasion of Psy Wi-Fi (Beach Impediment / Helta Skelta), their first 7-inch after a 2021 12-inch, Pick A Path, that could have easily been a 7-inch if they’d wanted it to. Listening back, having all but slept on it at the time, that older release is some choice high concept hardcore knuckleheadery, and although their four newest tracks drop the pace moderately I’m calling Psy Wi-Fi a step up.

Hacker’s two guitarists allow for two angles of attack, with moments of metallic swagger rising from the stab-frenzy staccato stomp that defined Pick A Path. It sounds like there’s two vocalists, as well, but both seem to be Nellie Pearson, moving between registers with aplomb. Pearson’s other band, Soakie, released a smashing EP in 2020 and nothing since, so if required I’ll settle for Hacker and her compelling lyrical tack. ‘How Do You Kill It?’ is Dungeons & Dragons-themed, ‘Deliverator’ more real-world in its encapsulation of the takeaway food courier’s grim lot but with some sci-fi angel dust sprinkled on top.

Pearson recently described Melbourne as “big enough to have overlapping scenes, but small enough that most people know each other,” so from several thousand miles away I wonder if a band like garage punks Drunk Mums are included in that. They’re good for my column, at any rate, and I’ve even looked past the ‘band of male musicians with name that kinda implies they’re women’ thing, although not so far past that I didn’t mention it.

All ten songs on Beer Baby (Legless / Bachelor), the fourth Drunk Mums album, are under three minutes and half are under two, which amounts to substantially greater efficiency than its predecessors. Vocals are shared in a way that implies grand blokeish camaraderie, while the tunes split the odds between ‘77 London punk, the pub rock which spawned it and US counterparts like the Dead Boys. Less insistently Antipodean than one might assume of a band with a frontman named Jake ‘Dingo’ Doyle who open their album with a song titled ‘New Australia’ (probably the most lyrically thoughtful song on it, as it goes), Drunk Mums’ influence on Amyl & The Sniffers and The Chats is noted; for the compulsive rankers among you, they’re not as good as the first of those bands and better than the second.

Back to the Basque label Mendeku Diskak with the third EP by Barcelona’s Enemic Interior. Closer to what one might consider ‘classic’ Oi! than Lost Legion, the four-piece nevertheless slather on solid portions of goth gloom in their lyrics and production touches alike, as well as encroaching on hardcore territory with the 51-second ‘Als Àngels’.

It’s worth again lauding efficiency as regards these five songs, as heaven knows there are plenty of Oi! bands who would have dragged them out to twice their length: Enemic Interior get things done with the devastating unfussiness of a hired assassin or eccentric plutocrat’s butler. It appears to be another self-recording job, and with no-one to blame if they stray from the path these Catalonians do no such thing. Sumptuous chorus pedal lights up ‘Pilars De La Decadència’, while a call-and-response vocal gambit (with a few cheeky “woah-oh”s for good measure) stirs the claret on ‘Cos A Cos’, the EP’s relative epic at just over two minutes. If you swoon to bands like Rixe you’ll probably dig these fellows, although that doesn’t describe the whole picture.

The wind now blows us west to Madrid and knocks the clean-tasting lager from our hand, because that wind is in fact the gymnastic bulldozer of a debut LP by straight-edge hardcore legion Desorden! Afilado Terror (Quality Control) turns one’s head with its sleeve, which depicts a giant version of the band’s vocalist Alenka destroying the city’s Edificio Metrópolis. Or possibly a normal sized version of her destroying a scale model of it.

Desorden crib, most prominently, from a fairly narrow section of hardcore history – an early 90s sound that flourished in north-east USA and built on both late 80s NYHC (with, generally, more ‘pro’ recording jobs) and the thrash metal and crossover from the same period (with most of the virtuosity and onanism stripped out). Guitarist Leo Forjados is also vocalist for Arma X, another Madrid edge unit whose 12” Quality Control released about 18 months ago, and if that band go bigger on warp-speed solos and Slayer genuflection than Desorden do, when either come with a doomladen intro you know something berserk is on its way; Forjados’ and Afilado Terror’s most metal moments, namely ‘Harga’ and the title track, are also LP highlights, and Alenka is a vocal powerhouse in any language.

New on QCHQ, too, is the debut demo from Ikhras, who are based between London and Brighton and divide their lyrics between English and Arabic. Cassettes of Jahanam Btistana come with a sheet of A4, featuring writing by Ikhras’ Hassan Afaneh and Hassan Dozakhi – Pakistani frontman of German band Zanjeer, whose fine 2022 EP I reviewed. Ikhras, much like Zanjeer, are valuable for reasons of representation alone, but are also using their moment to speak with force and clarity on matters which affect them far more directly than most people to whom hardcore gives a platform.

They also have a shipping container’s worth of riffs across these five songs: there’s a bit of mid-00s Boston in the mix, some proto-youth crew before it got cleaned up too much, probably some London HC contemporaries like Layback. ‘Tolerate Me’ and ‘Enlighten Me’ have a hip hop bounce thanks largely to the vocal delivery, and like more than a few classic hip hop albums Ikhras’ main lyrical target isn’t the unreachable bigots out there but liberal head-patters: “You pick your words so carefully / Trying your best not to offend me.” ‘Al Nahr’, which concludes Jahanam Btistana, is a specifically pro-Palestinian song (this being Afaneh’s familial heritage), and while its words could have been written any time in the last two decades or more it drives home how unusual it is – in the last five months or before – for hardcore bands to address this particular atrocity in their music.

Londoners Catastrophe have also just dropped their Dead On Arrival demo (through the PMT tape label) and it is some ripper crust, I can tell you! Chaotic, like life is, but hardly cack-handed, this fivesome tune the bass to full buzz, limber up their D-beating hand and nail their doomladen sound seven times over.

It’s homage on some level, I guess, but maybe better thought of as patching their favoured niche noises together in an attempt at creating the exact sound they wanted to hear. In this case, those might include UK anarcho at its most apocalyptically riffy, early 80s Swedish hardcore and the parts of late-80s ‘Britcore’ that weren’t overly metallic or pseudo-American. Can’t make out Jon Osborne’s lyrics for the most part (or read the handwriting on the insert), and the song titles are essentially cookiecutter for this type of music, but the inlay does also say “KILL THE ROYAL FAMILY AND PISS ON THEIR GRAVES” – inspirational for those too impatient to let nature take its course.

Coax, a hardcore band from St Petersburg, have released two tape EPs via England’s Noise Merchant label, Time Warp having come out about six weeks before this column. In between those was a one-off song, ‘Dumbland’, from spring 2022 and about “our society’s reaction to the catastrophe in Ukraine and Belarus”. Not sure that fully comes through in the lyrics (representative sample: “Your dad is an asshole / And mum is a cunt”), but I’m on board with the broad ‘tude of Time Warp, possibly the first time I’ve stuck my head in a Russian hardcore hole since waxing loopy about Petlya – also from St Petersburg, but with no apparent activity since 2019.

“Egg or chain?” ponder Coax in their Instagram bio, and – at the risk of doing my small bit to help make these jokey subgenre names into real, codified ones used by people years down the line – there’s both effervescent unseriousness and unfettered rage on Time Warp. “Glue, gas, booze, drugs – that’s my lifestyle!” claims Alena Shpana on ‘Dickhead’. “I like my colourful dogs,” she continues over deathrock-derived guitar and a beat that swings like an anvil on a bungee rope. ‘Time Warp’ the song is a sinister plod (non-pejorative use thereof), ‘Half-Life Troopers’ and ‘Tin Soldier’ much higher tempo and suitably militaristic, rhythmically.

Noise Merchant’s latest crop also harbours the debut EP from Palánta of Budapest: it was first released in Hungary 18 months ago, on a label named Szégyen Kazetták that seems pretty foundational to a whole DIY punk scene in the city, but I sure wasn’t hip to it at the time and am rudely going to assume that you weren’t either. Indulge me, then, as I catch up with Palánta’s unpeggable progcore steez.

A keyboardist, Bálint, is among the four instrumentalists of this quintet, and lends a heavy psych wail to circus-tempo thrashings like ‘Dónde Rueda’ and ‘Éhség’; Gréta Tóth-Krippl is the only credited vocalist, but either by studio conjuring or pure discombobulation it often sounds like there’s three or so people chuntering on here. ‘Éjszakai Kerti Parti’ and ‘Dezső’ both approach the five-minute mark but never let the energy drop, their preposterous impulsiveness reminding me of 90s mouldbreakers like Truman’s Water, and I’m charmed by ‘Éhség’ – which zigzags between HC/jazzoid aggression, a quick guitar break that makes me think very specifically of Throwing Muses, and organ-damaged wizard’s-cape prog – most of all.

Snuffling around the aforementioned Szégyen Kazetták label caused me to be knocked asunder by a more recent tape of theirs, by Çayîr – whose membership is mostly unknown to me but at a minimum share members with bands who share members with Palánta. It’s ten songs of noisepunk/crasher crust of the most unfeasibly primitive stripe: guitar and bass nuclear-fused together, sometimes effecting a sort of mutant throb with early-00s Load Records vibes (see ‘Évszázad Temetője’) but more often like a band who sent a demo to the Crust War label and got told to clean their act up a bit. Distortion devotees step inside!

At the last, four songs of something approaching pop music: in the context of this column, yes, but also on its own terms, which are set out by London duo Lindsay Corstophine and Heather Dunlop as Grazia. Though this is Dunlop’s first band of substance, Corstophine has been releasing records for nearly a quarter-century: Sauna Youth were his longest-running group, Violin (a hardcore band in which he plays everything) the noisiest, and based on Grazia’s debut 7-inch In Poor Taste (Feel It) they are set to be the sweetest.

Both members also being an actual couple probably aids this impression, even if there’s nothing in these songs that specifically addresses it: ‘Cheap’ talks of rugburn and other quasi-sexual things, if you must be prurient. By the same token, you can unpick threads of lyrical self-critique by Dunlop in ‘Thistle’ and ‘Stupid Paradise’, but that can’t override how comprehensively cheerful In Poor Taste sounds. Garage rock organ, basslines primed for the more melodically-inclined end of postpunk (or ‘Boris The Spider’ by The Who, in the case of ‘Speed Freak’) and cooly spoke-sung vocals that take the Shangri-Las via tweepop route to the cranial pleasure centre: distortion devotees, maybe you’ll like this more than you know.