Straight Hedge! Noel Gardner Reviews Punk & HC For January

2024's first punk and HC round-up contains rage, melody, polemic, weirdness, sass and swing - all within just one of the 10 supreme releases in Noel Gardner’s latest guide. Homepage photo: Dimension by Starion Dreamer

Now listen, in real life I’ll lean into the virginal promise of a new year as much as the next annumpilled calendarcuck, but when it comes to sitting down, just a few days into 2024, and writing this column it’s pretty much irrelevant. No-one is releasing hot punk rippage at the beginning of January, trust me, plus there hasn’t been a proper edition of Straight Hedge since October, so we have some late 2023 mopping up to do. Enjoy!

Progress (Peterwalkee), the debut album by Peace Talks from Pittsburgh, came out in November, or December as a physical package which included a “Limited Hand Silk Screened PEACE TALKS Barf Bag”. Something I could do with whenever I clock US-to-UK shipping prices, so a promised Euro pressing this spring via Swedish label Flyktsoda is welcome news. If there isn’t a better hardcore record released in 2024 than this, it’ll leave my end of year review looking dopey, but I won’t be mad: this album has rage, melody, polemic, weirdness, sass and, thanks to a judicious recording, even swings in its own sweet way.

Stalls are set out on ‘Life Is Strange’, which opens Progress and, for its first 80 seconds, is classically crescendoing hardcore with some serious kickpedal damage, but also a turbo-surf guitar style descended from East Bay Ray and delivered by John Villegas. Then the mosh part arrives, frontwoman Krystyna Haberman towering over the pawns below, and vocals go through the psychedelic wringer once or twice, and not for the last time. ‘Trash In A America’ has a raddled barroom piano part for a middle eight, puncturing what is otherwise a song worthy of dislocating your shoulder pumping your fist to, and ‘Taranaki’ has the best ‘deathrock, but at HC tempo’ guitar solo you’ve ever heard. It’s also one of two consecutive songs (see also ‘Last Chance Out Of Texas’) whose lyrics detail attempted kidnappings: Haberman, by all accounts, has had a hell of a life, and in this episode of it she sings in a hell of a band. I don’t think there’s a below-par moment on Progress, much less a song.

I’ve already forgotten what hipped me to Reaching For Eternity by Daydream – it wasn’t their name, that’s for sure – but whatever it was snared me proper. This half-hour sesh is as meaty as it’s wavey and, like the Peace Talks LP, owes a lot of its force to its production job. To reduce matters down in a way that’s (doubtless) facile to the three musicians responsible, but (perhaps) very handy for you, Reaching… is like a modern noise rock version of an early-2010s Toxic State Records band: petrol-snorting urbane hardcore, but with flappier bass strings and songs that somehow chug even when the guitar is basically just feeding back the whole time.

Outwardly gnarled and mutant, and at no point quiet or contemplative until ‘Sun-Shined In You (Martyrdom)’, the last of 12 tracks and their cue to get ‘long and slow’ in the way such bands often do, Daydream can not only fashion hooks from noise but also slip in actual melodies. Sometimes – as on ‘Eyes Over Shoulder’, where Tyler Walters’ guitar tone reminds me of Hidden World-era Fucked Up – they tease a riff that most bands would base a whole song on, and then in a few seconds it’s… gone. Ian Makua’s drum style has rolls for days but never gets busier than needed, and as a vocalist Alix Beyer has a way of making every syllable land hard: there might be as much late 80s rap or EBM in there as first wave anarcho. Co-released by Black Water, from Daydream’s native Portland, and Sabotage in Germany, making this smoking disc affordable to Euro consumers.

Seattle’s Iron Lung Records finished off another fine year of produce with four holiday-season releases, one of which is Malcría’s second 12-inch on the label. Fantasías Histéricas is a punishingly punk-patched quilt of hardcore styles evoking no certain era or location, including Mexico where the three-piece are in fact from. There are fast parts with hyperfucked squirming guitar solos a la Deep Wound, courtesy of Alan Di González, and bits where everything turns on whatever the Mexican equivalent of a sixpence is and drummer Gibrán Andrade directs the abrupt tempo change.

Vocals are shared between Andrade and bassist Miguel Maldonado (who goes by Baldo Crudo, a name surely worthy of deed poll activity, here), and I’m not certain which yeller is which but collectively they seem split between hoarse rawpunk desperation and hoarser, yobbier dogfight barks. The actual lyrics are darker and more impressionistic than the feeling engendered by their delivery, but I bet they feel like calls to arms when Malcría bang these out in any given concrete bunker. Unpunk sideproject check! Andrade also plays in Multa, a free jazz quartet which includes exploratory American trombonist Jeb Bishop.

Gifting their demo tape debut to Iron Lung, Dimension nevertheless have a preexisting relationship with the label in guitarist Will Killingsworth, whose long (long) list of past bands includes No Faith and Demonbrother as well as his mastering credits on most good modern hardcore releases. Dimension finds Killingsworth and co-vocalist Shane Dupuy and two guys called Jeremy and Andrew whose surnames I’ve not managed to dig up against their probable wishes – on a lean, snarky hardcore tip.

Their Western Massachusetts location puts them within gobbing distance of the Boston scene, and if you bear in mind HC notables of its various eras, from Jerry’s Kids to Social Circkle to Waste Management, then you shan’t be wildly off the map. Dupuy is perma-irate, but in a wisecracky way (“I’ve got a plan for you – TOTAL HEAD REMOVAL”), switching between potshots at dickheads either individual or composite, nihilistic calls to factory reset the world and, on ‘Who’s Next?’, sardonic cheerleading for imperialism. Seven minutes, six songs, five speedballs, one slowish jam, all gravy.

Out of the several hundred bands reviewed in Straight Hedge to date (if they do another global pandemic I might use my downtime to count them properly), it looks like Die In Vain are the first and only ones from Turkey. Did I fuck up? Or are the people whose job it is to wring this stuff into my mouth to blame? Let’s enjoy this high-grade EP of fighting music instead of actually fighting.

Savage New Times (La Vida Es En Mus) follows a 2021 demo and comprises five impeccably stomping romps whose gleaming-gluebag guitar sound and marching-as-to-war rhythm section sets their stall precisely between Oi! and UK82. Ege Sorkun alternates between Turkish and English – suffice to say songs’ titles get shouted a lot in whichever language – and guitarist Charged John knocks out solos that have me thinking of American streetpunx of yore like the Wretched Ones. The title track tickles the torso of USHC but for the most part Die In Vain evoke a UK punk era where most participants knew or cared little of the incoming hardcore invasion.

Permacrisis (Crew Cuts), the second 7-inch and third release overall by Perp Walk from Bristol, has been online since November and might be circulating physically by the time you read this. Just about anyone who saddles themselves with the rigmarole of getting vinyl pressed will tell you it is laborious, expensive and annoying, so if you go and buy a copy you’ll be perpetuating this nonsense – sorry, that was supposed to say “supporting the freshest wave of domestic DIY, treating yourself to the rad artwork of Perp Walk guitarist Dan Mélizan and enjoying this tempo-tweaking creepy crawl hardcore on its most classic format”.

These three latest songs sound decidedly bigger and badder than PW’s two other 2023 releases, and given they all have the same studio credits I’m going to chalk this one up to the band. ‘Natural Selection’ has a downstrokey intro with a 90s melodic hardcore vibe but settles into a slower, club-swinging churn – and either Mélizan or second guitarist Natasha Clarke has smuggled a lil’ chorus pedal goth tone in there. A locked-on killer riff is upended in the feedback-ridden midsection of ‘Penitent Man’, and ‘The Gavel’ uses its three minutes and 17 seconds to shift multiple gears and bring in this record’s first and last proper solo.

Misery (Noise Merchant), Subordinates’ second mini-album-length tape, is night-and-day better than their self-titled first, and puts Birmingham plumb back on the punk map. True, the (sick, undersung) Machiavellian Art album is less than a year old, but though this city has always treated me kindly I believe it could give me more. Subordinates number four and – excepting bassist Aneta Dubiak, who also makes cool screenprinted art and that – have done other grotty 0121-area bands of my acquaintance, including Rainbow Grave and Vile Sect.

Compared to those combos’ sludge punk and powerviolence, these eight songs are midpaced hardcore with perceptible psychedelic leanings in Dave Greig’s guitar style but – perhaps more pertinently – stacks of downtuning, mosh parts and, in Ben Thomas, a vocalist who sounds as aggrieved as one should if one titles one’s songs ‘Staring At The Walls’, ‘Living A Lie’ and suchlike. It’s kinda in the same airspace as Perp Walk, in that respect, but coming from a slightly weirder place (I don’t mean Birmingham) that echoes late-00s mobs like Cult Ritual. Not only does it bang hard, against the odds it’s got its own personality, in the same way that you’d expect the name Subordinates to have been taken long ago but seemingly it wasn’t.

Perusal of personnel on Can You Feel The Rhythm? (Donor), Mother Nature’s debut demo, turns up a dynamic similar to Subordinates, with Zoe Ribbons making her bow on bass as various Leeds hardcore perennials line up alongside. Liam Fox plays guitar more often than he sings, historically speaking, but he’s back on the mic for these five serpentine sluggers and sounding ready to chomp through chainlinks.

Mother Nature can do it linear, just not for more than about 30 seconds, with Rob Tyers running – as he has done many a time before – with the tainted legacy of Greg Ginn, and those who appropriated that legacy themselves. To that end, we can invoke Bl’ast and early Saccharine Trust when considering this tape, but Mother Nature come off a bit more legitimately oikish and audibly (northern) English, which is generally desirable with hardcore bands from there. As with the Pleasure demo Donor released just before this one, Can You Feel… might end up being the latest shortlived game of Leeds HC musical chairs, but if not, even better.

Did you see I mentioned Machiavellian Art a couple of reviews ago? No? It had a hyperlink and everything, you clearly weren’t reading properly. Their guitarist John Andrews lives in Shropshire, somewhere between Birmingham and Shrewsbury – which another of his bands, Half Brick, claim as their homebase. They’ve only played a few shows so far, and recorded this six-song demo in early autumn sometime, but I am into its unruly ur-punk blunderchunter big style.

Mostly concerned with racing to the finish line rather than getting distracted by solos (when one does arrive, on the final stretch of final song ‘Decent Crumpet’, it’s quite the tonic) and other such fripperies, Half Brick’s is a sound that would be recognisable to any first wave punk gumby. Still, there’s enough swirling distortion and snare-thrashing to indicate the membership as a whole have some sort of hardcore grounding, and the singer sounds like Billy Childish auditioning for Discharge, which is obviously good. Andrews aside, I’m not au fait with the people behind this tape – its handmade 90s emo-style foldout packaging is both terrific and light on information – but the band in general seem to be behind Shrewsbury DIY gig collective One Hand Clapping.

Finally, two heavy heads put those heads together and land in this column’s parameters, as they always threatened to. Born In A Headlock is Paddy Shine and Al Wilson, best known as members of Gnod and Ghold respectively, playing scuddy noiserock with punk-informed insolence as regards form and presentation. Plausibly, the mental sketches of the eight songs on Zazen (Burning World) could have ended up used by their other bands, but Gnod’s psych element is conspicuous by its absence, likewise Ghold’s metal side: the low end is through the floor (despite there being no bass on this recording, per the credits!), the riffs are coagulated to the consistency of rapidly drying cement and I’m minded to mention the ugly overkill of expired US bands like Landed, Rusted Shut and Twin Stumps.

Save for the spookily, almost grungily crooning vocal style, intermittently deployed, and hint of melody on ‘In Love With A Dream’, everything on Zazen’s wilfully OTT, from the springy grindcore-but-slower snare sound on ‘Bad Show’ to LP closer ‘Always Trying Never Understanding’, which isn’t rhythm-driven as such but could move rooms through what dubstep OGs called bassweight. (To reiterate, no-one is actually playing a bass here.) The next Gnod album is going to be a less punishing affair than the last few, and Born In A Headlock are intending to play live in the meantime, so you can soon feel the embrace for real.

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