Noel’s Straight Hedge: Your Punk & Hardcore Roundup For April

Scuzzy grind, squelchy wigout and molten-hot tech-grind queer trans anarchism with The HIRS Collective, Hank Wood & The Hammerheads, Geld, Unease, Bad Aura, The Snivellers and more

Calculators out: if a nitwit writes a punk reviews column six times in a year, and covers ten releases in each column, how close is he to capturing the full breadth and depth of the contemporary cultural zeitgeist? If you said “not very”, have a gold star. On the other hand, sixty noteworthy releases is quite a lot! Especially considering that most random people on the street would tell you there are no punk bands any more (or just walk away from you very briskly).

The steady deluge of new bands and records means it’s very easy to be late to the party with some bands, is the thing, so the first few subjects of this Straight Hedge are acts that I’d variously slept on, never got round to featuring or had simply never heard of. First up, the debut LP by Warm Bodies from Kansas City, Missouri – a place whose music scene I know nowt about, but I do know that the Thrilling Living label has been putting out some of the best DIY worldwide wildness for the last two years. And yet the EP Warm Bodies did for ’em last year still passed me by! Like I said, nitwit.

Warm Bodies from Warm Bodies (on Erste Theke Tontrager in Europe, Lumpy in the States) is fully wigged out thrashin’ jazz twit genius with yuck-factor lyrical leanings and an evident taste for a land beyond punk. Multi-speed, like a sex toy built by Lamborghini; free hardcore, like stealing gravel from your neighbours. The quartet are a crack unit, for sure, but it’s likely the noises of Ian Teeple and Olivia Gibb that’ll leap out at you. Teeple, in addition to recording the album, is responsible for hosing it down with unholy jets of guitar that sometimes sounds barely controlled, more often like the product of a hard rock jam session spiked with whizz and limited studio time. Black Flag ogre Greg Ginn and the Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood, old-skool rockers both, are the guitarist’s most obvious ancestors, but that’s where Gibb swoops in to alter the context: her vocals are a cavalcade of shrieks, squeaks, gasps and barks, notably on the opening ‘I’m A Dog’. They will probably drive some listeners bananas, likewise if they peruse her lyrics about yeast infections and breaking vases and bad smells and sexual relations with plane hijackers, but it’s their own fun they’re denying. A blood-twisting hoot of a time, topped off by the fact that Gibb, despite being an actual artist, drew the cover in the manner of a small child, rather than getting an actual child to do it.

Hank Wood And The Hammerheads have been on the NYC scene since 2011, and consistently popular in that time: folks from various ratchet/batshit HC combos playing partytime garage rock with a prominent organ. Not sure why it’s taken me until their new, third, self-titled album to acknowledge them here, but no time like the present, and it’s a hairy marvel with big streaks of soul and groove in its reckless stomp. The half-minute of nervous solo piano that opens the LP is the reddest of herrings, and the sole quiet moment – all else is nonstop bulked-up bar-band bangers, bloodthirsty wailing and more utterances of “BABY!” than a vintage porn supercut. Hank Wood basically calls everyone baby – the loved, the hated, animal, vegetable, mineral or road surface (“‘Til you’re lying in the street / Baby concrete!”, ‘Concrete’). He can testify like a pro, running the gamut from rage to vulnerability on ‘Must Be Nice’ until he’s just repeating “I NEED IT!” A gifted shouter in the vein of James Brown, Stiv Bators, Mick Collins and Make Up-era Ian Svenonius, both Hank and his Hammerheads play music that would have found an audience at any time since the 1970s, but would in past times have been verboten for scuzzball NYHC kids to tip a cap to, let alone play. Bless the new liberal age!

On that note, it shames me to say that I discovered The HIRS Collective only days before writing this, thanks to a feature on NPR’s website. Why the fuck are NPR schooling me, or anyone, on molten-hot tech-grind queer trans anarchism, and why didn’t someone tell me about this group before the SRA label – from Philadelphia, as are HIRS – released Friends. Lovers. Favourites? Turns out they have a shit ton of split singles and tapes and lathes and stuff already, and look to have graduated from a past average of about 20 seconds a song/100 songs an LP. By contrast, if you get this new one on vinyl, it stuffs 20 songs onto the A-side and populates the flip with a bonus EP, You Can’t Kill Us, and five remixes, including one by Moor Mother.

This is surely one of the hardest sounding records you’ll hear in 2018 – intensely precise grind-into-powerviolence with tons of bottom end, its vocals, guitar/bass and (albeit programmed) drums tilting towards Converge, Nails and Napalm Death respectively. Beyond this, there are many artistic, aesthetic and ideological differences: you might have cringed your head inside out at some of Nails’ and Converge’s lyrics – well, I have – but you won’t – oughtn’t – at HIRS’, which are about trans women taking up arms against street harassers; the necessity of self-care; the institutional sickness of the police force (‘Assigned Cop At Birth’, a title for the ages) and anti-black gentrification programmes coupled with the whiteness of punk culture. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! roaring “Give me that little limp dick! Jam it in!” might spawn an embarrassed titter, true, but I think that’s the idea.

Grace is one of several guest vocalists on Friends. Lovers. Favourites, who range from figures easily taggable as HIRS’ peers – Sadie Switchblade, ex of G.L.O.S.S.; Martin Sorrondeguy of Limp Wrist – to some less obvious. Garbage’s Shirley Manson reads an affecting spoken word piece about trans visibility, or lack thereof, for the first half of a 68-second song whose remainder is an utter blastbeat-ridden wrecking ball. Manson is not someone I anticipated appearing in this column, or for that matter featuring on one of the most powerful and significant albums that’ll be released this year.

Iron Lung Records say that the songs on Geld’s debut LP Perfect Texture are about “suffering, vulnerability, paranoia and banality,” and the lyric sheet duly teems with creeps and scum and shit and fuckers and tripe (tripe!) – but, bloody Nora, this is a proper bad acid rinseout whatever the textual deal. Geld come from Melbourne, and a multifaceted punk scene that takes in – as regards its members’ other bands – pub rock, postpunk and D-beat crust fodder. The last of those, the great but defunct Krömosom, are the closest to what we get here, but Geld spike their noisepunk with huge shards of psychedelia, creating a sound that doesn’t so much swirl as splatter, like a kid misusing a hand blender.

Songs are largely short, fast and nasty, y’know like hardcore is, but the effects pedals and bizarre sonic dustings are transformative and alien-sounding – take ‘Manic’, which starts off with a part that sounds more like some weird electro joint than anything made with a guitar, and a minute later is busting out a speed metal solo. (Specific credit to Cormac Ó Síocháin for that, the ex-Krömosom party who I pleasingly note was also a member of Scientific Bong, a shortlived thrash band with a running theme of being both Irish and constantly stoned.) Dunno if it’s a punx v hippies hangover that stops there being more bands who do what Geld are doing here, but Perfect Texture’s hardcore psych whiteout could have been made especially for me, and they’re following it right up with a 7-inch as well, the beauties.

Now to the UK, where we shall remain this month, for some mostly but not exclusively very new outfits. In Noel’s Foul House, my UK underground-centric column, I’ve featured Unease vocalist Dean Lloyd Robinson in his solo noise guise as Knifedoutofexistence. Unease’s debut demo doesn’t have much clear common ground, but Robinson remains a forceful presence, gruff and grizzled amidst six songs which are impressively fully formed for a band who recorded this before ever playing live. Said songs pull off that neat trick of feeling vast and epic, while in fact being mostly under two minutes; the recording, by Wayne Adams, gets the levels of crud and clarity spot on. Somewhere in between Discharge, Hoax and metal-loving late-80s Japanese hardcore, Unease are another impressive notch on the belt of the current Brighton punk scene.

Max Warren of Welsh indie ensemble Joanna Gruesome is currently resident in Brighton too, and has started a label, Gob Nation, with two cassettes out in recent weeks. The first, The Servile Worm by The Snivellers, includes Warren and Joanna Gruesome bandmate Owen Williams in its five-strong lineup, plus the infamously yowly vocals of Max Levy, former frontman of Lower Slaughter. The Snivellers are a concept band of sorts, the concept being the innate wretchedness of Levy, or his in-song persona; ‘Prostate’ relates the experience of wriggling, stomach on floor, to escape some kind of master/servant imprisonment scenario (which is more unsettling for not obviously being sexual). This is set to a ramshackle, abrasive jangle with swift nods to powerpop and postpunk and, at the beginning of the tape, a truly hideous slurping noise which I imagine to have been created with a tub of hair gel and a contact mic.

Gob Nation’s second release is a live recording by Revenue, a London group whose number includes drummer Severin Black, also of Fat White Family. An FWF side project yet to be featured on this website? Best put that right! Revenue would probably play down the connection, that said, and indeed it’s more useful to think of them as part of a gaggle of London-and-its-satellites bands who deal in feedbacky, vaguely military-rhythmic, taut-yet-bombastic goth/anarcho fodder: Bad Breeding, Fex Urbis, Sarcasm to name three. Live At Paper Dress is a decently recorded seven-song set that goes heavy on the chorus pedal and sounds like the front row might have caught the brunt of signer James Burgess’ spittle. Two new (or not on Revenue’s 2016 demo, at least) songs bode well: ‘Roses On Concrete’ runs at a Wipers-esque clip and ‘Divided’ shifts gear into hardcore tempo with invigorating results.

Sticking in London, Child’s Pose first popped up last summer, put two demo songs online in the new year and now have a four-song 7-inch in the racks – the first vinyl release by tape label Nervous Energy. It feels like a wilful attempt to transmit posi vibes, from members of bands who don’t exactly have a reputation for doing this – Nekra, Woolf, Sauna Youth and the aforementioned Sarcasm all featuring on the Child’s Pose résumé. Sophie Brown’s lyrics cover escapism, smalltown paranoia and friendship, both nostalgia for and maintenance of, and take a fairly different tack to the other band she sings in – terrific pogopunx Score. Musically, the EP is nicely tricky to pin down: postpunk, you might call it, albeit at the quicker end of the form, and with classic British pop smarts. I’m reminded of a punkier version of The Plan album I reviewed at the end of this column, and perhaps also the first few Sleater-Kinney albums, bassline-powered songs notwithstanding.

Straight Hedge always feels oddly incomplete when there isn’t some antisocial dirge fuckery to write about, and this month Bad Aura have stepped up. Notes From A Sinking Nation (False Profit) is this Glasgow band’s third album-length tape, and the best thing I’ve heard by them by some distance. Sandy Milroy, their current vocalist in the sense of Robbie Williams’ “current wife” – Bad Aura have had a different frontman for each release – is a more than key ingredient, favouring a dramatic spoken word style which, if isolated from its backing track, would evoke open mic nights in squat basements. When switched up with a yelled chorus or refrain, to say nothing of Bad Aura’s Flipper/No Trend/Stickmen With Rayguns fetid pummel, it’s a repeatedly effective tactic. ‘Fife’, the third of seven songs on Notes…, is worth the price of admission alone (well, the price starts at zero, but figuratively speaking): a virtually, excitingly formless din, the couplet “I’ve got to get the fuck out of Fife / I’ve got a kid, I’ve got a wife,” and a passing mention of Jimmy Savile’s caravan. Member connection: bassist Chas Lalli is also in Vom, noise-goth supermen whose Initiation album was my Foul House release of 2017 dontchaknow.

Talking of that column, and goth, last year I reviewed a hefty box set of 80s goth bands that Cherry Red Records put out, this being the label’s most valuable contributions to the landscape nowadays. Their latest, Burning Britain, gathers 114 songs from British punk’s post-hype, pug-fugly early 80s period, and is named after Ian Glasper’s book about the same (itself named after a Chaos UK single). This, then, is a shop window for the oft-misunderstood appeal of Oi!, UK82, anarcho punk and Discharge-style thrash, as well as a few scattered goths, postpunks and more tradpunk offerings by ambitious bands who tanked.

Glasper’s introductory notes talk about the new punk blood of the early 80s – including his personal epiphany, Discharge’s ‘Decontrol’ single – blowing away the previous waves and having their own, identifiable strength. This is slightly undermined by Burning Britain featuring over a dozen bands who were also compiled on Action Time Vision, a 2016 Cherry Red comp which is like this one, but for independent Britpunk bands pre-1980. Is there really any point in The Damned or The Lurkers being here too? Meanwhile, there’s no Crass, or Crass Records bands, albeit because they don’t license their music to things like this, and if you’re unable to take the initiative to check them out yourself then maybe they’re not for you.

Burning Britain is a bit of a conceptual hodgepodge: if Oi! and anarcho were united by their rock-establishment pariah status, they were oppositional in most other respects, so bundling them up in an overarching movement feels slightly off. The choice by Glasper, a doughty archivist through his various books on UK underground scenes, to chuck in a few bands who never progressed beyond demo tapes invites nitpicking comment about who wasn’t included, too. But yep, in the scheme of things this music doesn’t get the respect it deserves, and this attempt to validate it should be taken in good faith (I mean, it was surely never intended to exist as a quadruple-CD compendium inside a hardback book, but nor was the stuff on Nuggets, right?). Ultimately, if Poison Girls’ ‘Pretty Polly’ or Death Sentence’s ‘Victims Of War’ or Mayhem’s ‘Dogsbody’ or Violators’ ‘Summer Of 81’ or Instant Agony’s ‘Fashion Parade’ or Ultra Violent’s ‘Crime For Revenge’ or Anti-System’s ‘Animal Welfare’ don’t electrify your pelvis, you might have clicked on this column by mistake.

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