Noel’s Straight Hedge: Your Punk & Hardcore Reviews For February

Noel Gardner says hello to Low Life, Drinking Boys And girls Choir and Muro, while saying farewell to Maximum RocknRoll...

Since the last Straight Hedge dispatch, the big news in the realm of ‘arranging thoughts about global DIY/underground punk and hardcore into some vaguely coherent word order’ has been the imminent sayonara of Maximum Rocknroll. The Berkeley-based newsprint zine has appeared every month for nearly 40 years, and generally gave the impression it would continue, without meaningful change, for as long as punk itself. It feels likely that without MRR, I wouldn’t be writing this column, which is less a comment on my personal connection with it than its immense, sometimes officious part in shaping the DIY punk narrative. Anyhoo, respect due, and it seems it’ll still maintain a presence as an online-only publication. I hear it’s the hot new thing!

Now MRR wouldn’t stress about reviewing a record the year after it was released, and neither will I – especially as the record, I Did It All For You (Toxic State) by Murderer, landed on December 28, maybe the worst possible date to release an LP. Still relatively warm in the racks, then, slurp on this obtuse puddle of syrup, poison and glass shards like a thirsty dog. Murderer, a trio from New York, feature two ex-dudes from Crazy Spirit – Sam Ryser and Hank Wood, better known for fronting his band the Hammerheads – plus less-decorated bassist Eric Hughes. I Did It, their second release and first since 2013, is a bizarre and contradictory experience: red-raw moronostomp punk with a 90s garage trash fidelity and a rhythmic relentlessness not far off the black metal Oi! of Bone Awl, but also disarmingly soppy, surface-level romantic lyrics which read like old doowop sides.

The album’s 15 songs include four variations on one theme, each titled ‘Perfect’ and which croon “I need it to be perfect / I need it to be real / That’s just what I’m saying / That’s just how I feel” over drippy one-finger synth. These doe-eyed softboy creepers – and the late-arriving boombox slow jam ‘Me And You II’ – are completely out of place with the rest of the album, which is surely the intention. As a pure soundtrack to rocking out, Murderer are catchier and peppier than their grody recording and two-bit arrangements might imply, but there’s something sickly and sinister in their romantic pivot that only amps up intrigue.

Toxic State’s other new release is God’s Exposure: a four-song cassette of electronic body punk from Blu Anxxiety, more NYC gadflies fronted by Chi Orengo. Formerly of hysterical deathrock band Anasazi, Orengo’s return to the fray is notable for making his past activities look dour and polite by contrast. ‘Uninvited To The Funeral Home’ is psychobilly Uniform – boiling-point drum machine, punk metal guitar, horror flick synth – and things get goofier for ‘Internet Terrorist’ and its jive-talkin’ Thrill Kill Kult industrial schlock. “WRESTLEMANIA? TRANSYLVANIA!” ‘Skeleton Farm’ has the most prominent metal riffs, a buoyant synth and rap mixtape airhorns clearly included for maximalist shits&giggles. ‘Send Me An Angel’ closes with a tender Eurobeat pumper larded with distortion and other distracting elements. Can’t believe I’m reviewing something that sounds like this here, but Blu Anxxiety have spawned a party monster and I gotta hunch it’ll inflame a few punk discos for a while yet.

Sydney band Low Life’s 2014 debut LP Dogging was picked up for UK re-release by Luke Younger’s Alter label, where they’ve remained for its successor Downer Edn. They’ve embellished and thickened their sound here, multi-tracking guitars into a wailing wall of shoegazey texture while maintaining a tempo that avoids any threat of slovenliness or idle mumbling. Frontman Mitch Tolman has that identifiably Antipodean vocal tendency of talking loudly rather than singing per se (this is definitely a thing, right – virtually every new Aussie indie or postpunk band I’ve heard in the last few years does it) and is aided by plumes of reverb, a vaguely wistful backing chorus (on ‘Glamour’) and an unlikely, but less ludicrous than it might have been, vocoder effect (on ‘Gabbertron’). There’s a grubby undertone of implied violence in his lyrical phraseology that comes to a head on ‘Warrior’ – “YOU WANT SOME?” asks Tolman, or the character he’s embodying, repeatedly over a lurching sea of chorus pedals.

With the caveat that Low Life are aiming for something fairly distinct this time out, I’m not sure there’s anything on Downer Edn that matches the nauseous rush of Dogging’s anti-toxic masculinity broadside, ‘DNA’. It is, though, a stirring half hour with equal zeal for Joy Division-y scowling and ur-punk chug, a blessed union of fop and bootboy. Leeds band Eagulls briefly threatened to become quite popular sounding a bit like this, but as they appear to be either dormant or defunct, check in here instead.

Oakland quartet Kicker embrace the bumptious pockmarked chunter of a thousand Merrydown-powered punx picnix on Pure Drivel (Tankcrimes), their third album, and as such this union of uniformly middle-aged blokes might be too trad and too dad for some. They thoroughly nail the sound they’re gunning for, though – classic anarcho meets UK82 and 90s East Bay squatter punk – pen catchier-than-they-have-any-right-to-be choruses, and sample a Kit Kat advert from 1984, a time when Kicker’s vocalist was a roadie for the Subhumans, Amebix and other British bands. Hence his nom de punk (one used seemingly by everyone), Pete The Roadie.

While Kicker is Pete’s first and only band, Dave Edwardson is Neurosis’ bassist since their formation in 1985, and if his profile there is a bit, well, Ken from Bros, he’s responsible for a wealth of punchy rhythmic leads on Pure Drivel; guitarist Matt Parrillo, similarly, is best known for wielding foully sludgy bottom end in Dystopia and Dave Mello bears a weighty ska-punk shaped cross as one-time drummer of Operation Ivy. If Kicker amounts to a goof-off – and with song topics including psychopathic maths teachers and ‘Wankers On The Bus’, levity is abundant – it’s by no means half-cocked musically, with ‘Monte Rio’ stomping like some lost single on Mortarhate and ‘Down To The Bunker’ adding a sliver of skatepunk fizz to the Brit-accented facade.

Mention of which genre brings us to the debut album by Drinking Boys And Girls Choir, a South Korean three-piece who I fancy are the first band with a self-professed Sum 41 influence to be featured in Straight Hedge. Keep Drinking (Damnably), though, most frequently calls to mind the 90s bands who influenced Sum 41 – the massed ranks of frosty-tipped gas station workshirt-wearing skate video soundtrackers on labels like Fat Wreck, Nitro and Honest Dons with unfathomably compressed guitars and a snare rhythm as punk-canonical as the D-beat. In terms of airheadedness, credibility and base pleasure, this stuff is to hardcore as happy hardcore is to hardcore. If you follow.

Keep Drinking is not a puritanically pop-punk album, although it could have been if DBAGC had trimmed its 18 songs down to a slightly less draining length. As it is, there are deviations into cute quasi-rocksteady (‘Stay Here’), jangly indie (‘Let Me Lost’) and a sorta-proggy five-minute instrumental (‘Red Shift’). Seo Bondu has that soaring, germ-scrubbed, metal-originated guitar sound down pat, and but for the trio’s accents – vocals are shared between Bondu, bassist Bae Meena and drummer Kim Myeong-jin – much of this could near enough pass for Lagwagon or Bracket or someone like that. This particular iteration of the sound coming from a two-thirds female band is a pleasant counterweight to its thumpingly bro-heavy history, although it’s not like they play it in any appreciably different way. Still: are you now or have you ever been a pop-punk fiend? If so, get with Drinking Boys And Girls Choir and live without judgement.

I’m Gonna Kill That Man (Anxious Music), Public Service’s debut 7-inch, is a few old favourites’ warm return served cold. The four-piece, last heard on a self-issued tape about two years back, comprise three Glaswegian fellows and vocalist Katy Cotterell, who also plays in London synthheads Es and makes really cool metal jewellery. Additionally, it’s on a new label founded by ex-members of Anxiety, cricket glove-wearing noise mavens who raged hard but, like Soundcloud rappers and cheap batteries, left us too soon. So that’s all lovely, as are these three songs if you dig springy, driving gothic punk rattlers with blindsiding breakdowns. ‘Sabine’ starts and finishes with drawn-out chords, disarming wails and rumbling/crashing toms, zipping to an energetic peak in between. ‘Desire’ (“feeding my…”, goes the refrain) is like a tartrazine’d Banshees, or p’raps Rubella Ballet. ‘Healing’ lasts 88 seconds, less than half the length of its two predecessors, but says its piece with a chunky central riff its platform. If the geographical distance between Public Service’s members isn’t too big a barrier to productivity, hopefully their next release will arrive quicker.

Lindow Moss threw beastly seven-tracker Thirsting online back in late spring before granting it cassette-based physicality, and some sexually implausible sketched cover art, just before Christmas. They’re named after a Cheshire peat bog notable for preserving a two-millennia-old corpse but hail from Nottingham, their number including TV Crime’s John Gilbert and Shrykull drummer (and tQ metal columnist) Kez Whelan. Their take on black metal punk does not entirely torch the rulebook penned by Ildjarn, Bone Awl and so forth – a song preposterously titled ‘Blackened Skinhead’ underlines that – but neither are the quartet bound to convention. Spooky, maybe even dungeon-y synth parts waft through intros and outros before being properly platformed on beatless, wordless closer ‘Xanax Fen’, and if Gilbert’s vocals are dogpiled to unintelligibility by the churning hobnail clang of the other six songs, a lyric sheet reveals a preference for earthbound, stoic subject matter like smalltown drudgery and extremely online fash dickheads. Plus, in the case of ‘Bog Warriors’, some brief toilet-centric double entendre japes.

The debut tape by Closed dropped at the exact same time as Lindow Moss’ and was recorded by a member of that band, Ian Boult. It is also a sub-quarter-hour missive of delicious nihilistic muck. From south-east England, Closed are a bass/drums/howl duo who to some extent maintain the crushed spirit of Swallowing, previous band of both Michael Brown and Alastair Fyffe. Here, though, songs are compact expectorations of gristle and displeasure rather than torture-rack epics: Man Is The Bastard is the go-to reference point, really, but this listener hears Noothgrush, Vincebus Eruptum and Iron Lung in this black-humoured goblin cackling and arse-dragging (ar)rhythms. Not sure Closed have played live yet, but on the evidence of this fairly unadulterated-sounding – albeit great – recording, they’d likely slay.

Been itching to write about Petlya, or Петля in Cyrillic, since at least this time last year, but due to an obstinacy that in all likelihood is probably going to look a bit daft in years to come, I’ve been waiting for this St. Petersburg band to issue something other than digital files. Estranged Communications, a microlabel from Delaware, is shortly to oblige with a tape version of four new songs titled троглодит (‘Troglodyte’), but you can climb inside their psychedelic hardcore vortex right away. Hectic tempos with gaspworthy shifts of same, infinite ripples of vocal reverb, guitar solos like a chemical explosion lighting up the sky and vocals that emerge straight from the throat while eschewing dread Cookie Monstrosity. There are two pretty short songs and two pretty long ones; they variously remind me of United Mutation, Rudimentary Peni, demo-era Voivod, Anxiety and Dry Rot; this is my favourite release of this column and I’ve an increasing hunch that Petlya are one of the most exciting hardcore bands in the world.

An accolade many would bestow on Muro: a Colombian band who uphold the rich legacy of South American HC on their sagely titled debut LP, Ataque Hardcore Punk, but have also gone to greater lengths than nearly any of their peers or ascendants to break bread with the international scene. For example, they’ve booked Colombian tours for bands like Orden Mundial and Institute, been granted similar favours by LA’s Generacion Suicida and released Ataque on Oslo label Byllepest in 2017. It’s way sold out, so bicker to yourself about whether this new run by US imprint Beach Impediment is a repressing or reissue. I’m just going to rep it.

Muro are essentially classic in their approach to hardcore, tying together strains of British, Spanish and American fury down the years. Certainly, the unwitting listener might peg this as a product of early-80s NYC, the loose 90s crop of Havoc Records bands or something recently put out by Toxic State (which is not to imply they’re Yank-apers to any great extent). They can do weirdo pogo nattily as you like (‘No Mas’); Darcy Cabrera hollers with intense fervour and moderate echo while Carlos Velásquez and Juan Ospina make hay with their twin-guitar setup. Production is grimy in all the best ways and, if there was ever a time when this continent’s punk was reduced to curio factor on account of being so hard to actually hear, Ataque Hardcore Punk is far beyond that – going toe-to-toe with any given big HC hitters out there, and then giving them a big sweaty hug.

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