Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For June

In a special, British bands-only summer edition of his punk and hardcore round-up, Noel Gardner surveys superb new releases from Chain Of Flowers, Yfory and more, as well as a highly-reccomended new compilation of classic anarcho punk. Homepage photo: Fashion Tips

I thought I would make this summer Straight Hedge a first-ever all-British bands edition, and in doing so fully banish the 2020-21 period when, of all the hot new punk records emerging from the darkness, almost none came from the UK. We are so fucking back! And if using “we” like that in issues of nationality induces frowning, smile as I instantly undermine my premise by beginning with the self-titled debut 7-inch (Static Age) by Yfory.

Based in Berlin, Yfory’s members are from Australia, Germany, Spain and Wales, and for vocalist Bryony Beynon (previously of Good Throb, Sceptres and several others) this is the first band where she sings in her birth language. Specifically, these four sharp, rattling post punk songs dart between Welsh and English, often within the same line and with unbothered linguistic impurity. Certainly, the niceties of Welsh serves distinct lyrical purpose. ‘Ailgylchu’, the last and shortest track on the single, is a ‘list song’ of sorts which advocates or imagines various things being burnt, melted or drowned: “llosgi … toddi … boddi”. ‘Baled Y Dolmen’, the longest, relates a road trip across Wales and mulls neolithic burial chambers: pensive and speak-singy, it reminds me a little of The Van Pelt.

Yfory’s instrumental section of Ramon Babot, Jan Hellmich and Chris Onton combine pop-smart delicacy with the punk thump of many of their other bands. ‘Chwaer Pwy?’, about workplace power tussles, is enlivened by an enamel-strippingly shrill guitar solo; ‘Dim Siawns’ prefaces a quoted lyric by Life Without Buildings, who can function here as a ‘like that? try this’ band, with “Just like Sue [Tompkins] sang…” You know, like an acoustic guitar guy wearing a cravat might do with Leonard Cohen. Yfory is a release of unqualified excellence and anyone who likes punk, post punk or music in Welsh should buy it.

Never Ending Space (Alter) is Chain Of Flowers’ second album in eleven years, and their first in nearly eight. The group began life in south Wales, escapees from various hardcore bands keen to expand their resumé, and made good with an earbleedingly loud spin on post punk-shaded dreampop. These days, members mostly live in England and, on this impressively textured 40-minute LP, lean into sounds including but not limited to intellectual 80s pop (David Sylvian is listed in the thanks list, possibly not for anything he knowingly did), downer dub and poolside Balearica.

There are saxophones, xylophones – it was recorded at London’s Total Refreshment Centre, which perhaps encourages such behaviour – and, beautifully, not only a Welsh-language spoken word intro (on ‘Torcalon’) but one in which guitarist Sami Hunt describes watching Wales choke 1994 World Cup qualification against Romania, when he was a mere stripling. Rich Clarke’s drum parts have a brisk energy that betrays his musical background, but are mixed to give a spacious feel, especially on the floor tom-forward shimmer of Never Ending Space’s concluding title cut.

Objectively, I suppose it would have been weird if Chain Of Flowers had waited most of a decade to release an album that just sounded like the last one, but the result amounts to progression of the best kind, ambition without hubris. Josh Smith has certainly grown in stature as a vocalist, and as much as the band’s taste for expensive/expansive pop is in effect, there are plenty of cranked-up guitar parts that keep things in aesthetic check with punk-the-sound.

Hands across the Severn as Brave New Lows, a hitherto digital-only release by Rank from Bristol, is upgraded to 12-inch by Scene Report, a new label based in south Wales (this is its second release following a gnarly debut by Unified Action of north east England). Two of Rank’s four members were previously in Grand Collapse, themselves a Cymro-Bristolian joint affair, who disbanded last year following the sudden death of vocalist Calvin Sewell. It was a considerable loss to the UK punk community, and if Rank aren’t continuing that legacy by design (Brave New Lows originally came out in 2021) then one can still point to resemblances, especially in the two guitarists’ banquet of metal leads, melodic hardcore gleam and crust triumphalism.

Even accounting for those tendencies, though, this is essentially a hardcore-for-the-hardcore record, and a really good one. I get a Poison Idea vibe from the broad tempo of these eight songs, mostly a little over or under two minutes, and zeal for ramming a solo in wherever one might fit; Annihilation Time, Cülo and Strung Up come to mind as post-millennial kin for Rank. Lyrically, Jon Powell is irked enough to match his rasping vocal style, and though the listener is often asked to join the dots as regards mentions of “lying psychopaths” and so forth, one song wilfully dates itself by being named after, and about, Priti Patel. Remember Priti Patel?

Currently one demo tape and a handful of gigs old, The Pinch are from Bristol and should not be confused with Pinch, the dubstep producer from Bristol. (I wouldn’t expect a sentient human to confuse them for long, but Google, who is reading this, kind of does.) Come On Feel The Pinch, the demo tape in question, is in a blessedly hard to define interzone between anarcho punk, goth and proto-post hardcore. That last thing mainly means the Minutemen, maybe also Wire a tad.

Will Briscoe’s wide-vowelled vocals suit the axe through English history he takes in opening song ‘Dreary’, whose sense of drama recalls anarcho outliers Zounds; ‘Affordable Housing’ is a febrile jitter offering a British riposte to the – often UK-sounding – Straw Man Army’s two LPs. None of which equates to soundalike fodder, to be clear, and guitarist Livi Sinclair, more than any other member, gives The Pinch their individualism, as she did with her previous band Neurotic Fiction.

Keno, a three-piece from London, have existed in some form since at least 2017, and indeed released a home-recorded cassette in summer 2020 that completely eluded me while I was lamenting a lack of such things; Scared To Update (Gob Nation) is its album-length follow-up. It features a new bassist in Reid Allen (whose previous band, Cardiff’s Glib, were reviewed in a past column), joining Alec Tullio (previously reviewed as part of Skitter, Maladia and in his solo incarnation Casing) and Dom Stevenson (also of Casing, when they play live). Thrilling discographical info logged, let us consider Scared…’s bizarre and addictive psychedelic yob grot.

Stevenson’s vocals come as a drawl, but a really forceful one, and in an accented midpoint between ENG and AUS. Organ and synth parts lend a Fall-meets-budget rock anti-grooviness, exemplified by the sub-Radiophonic whine illuminating ‘Still Life’. The release’s clear flagship song, though – it has a video and that – is ‘Wiggle Time’, an unstoppable bozo stomper whose crucial message is that it is “wiggle wiggle time”. What with this and the comparably earwormy ‘I’m Gonna Wiggle’ by Mozart Estate, 2023 has been generous to the wiggling community so far.

Life Expectancy is Tom Costello. They are from Liverpool.” They also don’t have any online footprint divulging further background info, so I will choose to believe Iron Lung Records, on the occasion of their releasing Life Expectancy’s Decline tape, because what choice do I have, really. If this is Costello’s introduction to the world, it is a commendably fucked-sounding one, combining bestial black metal, digital D-beat and blown-out walls of fuzz. There is tangible musical structure in there, if that’s important to you, but it’s outgunned by a sense of utter one-person sonic misanthropy.

Life Expectancy’s guitars sometimes have a metalpunk OTTness (‘Born Rotten’, ‘Land Worm’) which combines with industrial smogclouds to invoke G.I.S.M, or later adaptors of their redlined extremity like Death Dust Extractor. ‘Liquidated Flesh’ is sort of death-doom and features a moment where the sound drops out in such a way as to suggest this was recorded directly onto cassette. On the BM side of things, if Black Cilice or Blasphemy is your idea of a pleasant listen you might take shelter under this assaultive blanket, and Decline ends with ‘End’, a full-scale noise jam.

If you keep tabs on the Glaswegian indie pop/post punk/DIY scene you may recognise some of the members of Seer, and also be surprised by what a hectic hardcore freakdown their debut demo is. I worked in the reverse direction and gathered that folks from (among others) Rapid Tan and Kaputt feature here: enough to speculate that this band are an outlet for the hard, fast and chaotic dreams all right-thinking people harbour.

Eilidh Mcmillan’s vocals are a little like Josephine Edwards from Sniffany & The Nits and Olivia Gibb from Warm Bodies, depending on whether she’s chatting or ranting, and between them Seer’s backline supplies flailing aggro-jangle, obstinately buzzing bass and enough cymbal action to grind you down to a pa(i)ste. ‘Burn, Isobel, Burn’ throws in some token downtuned chug and there’s a guitar break early on in ‘Chief Parasite’ which is like if the Pixies had been a hardcore band. Listen and tell me I’m wrong!

No sooner had Champayñe from Sheffield made a cameo appearance in the April edition of this column, via a lyrical co-write on an album by member-related band Big Break, than their own demo tape dropped. They call it New Wave Of Sexy British Hardcore, thereby flouting the rule concerning British hardcore bands being forbidden from thinking about or referencing s*x in any way, and it is a total hoot which, coupled with their general demeanour, makes the Champayñe lifestyle sound aspirational.

Their music isn’t hardcore in an exclusionist sense, with plenty of punk and garage rock in there, but there are more than enough hollerable refrains and creepy crawl guitar moments to uphold that side of things. Hard to see past Jennifer Reid on the mic as Champayñe’s driving force, though: “Hey ma! Guess who’s back?” she snarks on ‘Freaky Friday’, like an evil Cherie Currie; “It’s too soon for anyone else / You’ll wind up on the fucking shelf,” jeers ‘Co-Dependant Nightmare’. As I noted in that Big Break review, Reid is also a folk singer, and the absolute force in her voice here strikes me as a ‘learn the rules to break them’ approach to singing. Better still, she plays an 18th-century Yorkshire pub landlady – one who sings the odd folk song! – in Shane Meadows’ new BBC drama Gallows Pole.

Located in Newcastle and County Durham, Fashion Tips were a known quantity to me thanks to vocalist Esmé Newman, who makes black metal and noise under a few different names. Fucking Hell (Panarus), their four-song debut tape, is pretty different to those, but pretty noisy still, and pretty essential if you hold a candle for that lurid, sometimes sordid synth-heavy strain of post-hardcore that proliferated in the late 90s and early 00s via labels like Three One G, Skin Graft and Gold Standard Laboratories and is objectively very off-brand in 2023. Which is to say a near-future revival wouldn’t surprise me too much. Fashion Tips indeed!

Newman handles keys as well as singing, rustling up some fine horror-movie tones on ‘Waltzing’ and tossing a distress signal into ‘Standing O’; drums are variously manmade and programmed, and Liam Slack’s basslines are pretty danceable even while battling through walls of punk disco sludge. “She studied painting at the art school / I enrolled at Fugue State”, from ‘Cinema Vérité’, is one of those lyrics that matches the style of music being played with uncanny perfection.

Cease & Resist is an 18-song compilation of anarcho punk, all UK-derived apart from The Ex’s ‘Ay Carmela’, and it has a major advantage over most collections addressing this genre because its compilers – JD Twitch, whose Optimo label this is on, and Chris Low – have got permission to include songs released on Crass Records. Crass’ own ‘Bloody Revolutions’ is one of these, longer than the version most know by virtue of a half-minute Thatcher impersonation at the end, and the band’s Gee Vaucher designed Cease & Resist’s front cover.

Supposedly taking ten years from conception to release, this album has a precursor of sorts in 2008’s 10 Inches Of Fear, a hooky edit/mix CD package whose basic premise was to demonstrate that Twitch’s favoured noisy rock music has more prominent dancefloor-friendly qualities than received wisdom suggests. Accordingly, Cease & Resist prioritises the anarcho scene at its least conventional, with selections informed by disco (Poison Girls, ‘Underbitch’), jazz (Cravats, ‘Rub Me Out’), proto-techno (‘Here’s What You Find In Any Prison’ by Hit Parade, which I can barely believe is from 1982), hip-hop (D+V, ‘Conscious’) and Stockhausen (Annie Anxiety, ‘Hello Horror’). Elsewhere, acts operate in a comparably more rockist framework but are rhythmically leftfield in a postpunk-parallel way, with Zounds, Alternative and Flux Of Pink Indians prime examples on this comp and in the movement generally.

There was a lot of boilerplate anarcho punk circulating in its heyday, heck much of it’s great if you like that sound, so an overview that both honours its sonic markers and its bold fringes, and does that inside 74 minutes, is a commendable artefact. I could have written something the length of this column, and then some, about Cease & Resist alone, but you can get that on the back of the big Crass-style foldout poster that comes with this highly recommended album.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today