Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Cock Sparrer - Forever

We are older for much longer than we're young. Though identity is forged in a roiling mass of hormones and adolescent passions, whiplash snaps of mood and circle, a stumbling procession of twentysomething mistakes, we spend a far longer period of our life letting those hard convictions and iron poses unspool gradually, shifting slowly and corrupting and tarnishing bit by bit with the implacable accretion of years. Which way these convictions bend, which rude form they calcify into is up for grabs, but those early formative thrusts, that first show, first pill, first shuddering wrack of heartbreak, those fights and triumphs continue to loom larger in the imagination and sense of self.

Bands are similar most of time. When we think of the Buzzcocks we remember first the pristine crop of perfect singles that they cranked out in the half-decade of their original incarnation, rather than their reunion which has been going steady for 28 years now. Wire are sixteen albums deep into a forty-odd year exploration of weird sonic places yet their name is perhaps still most likely to conjure the yelping headrush pogo of 12XU.

Cock Sparrer have, like Wire, been rolling along for coming up on half a century now, first formed as a bunch of teenagers in 1972, and they've long been a band that dealt in more than that rush of youth.

Their greatest album Shock Troops, released in 1983, was already moving past the hopeful bloody throb of some early punk being filled with songs that one could, had the term not already been taken, easily define as in attitude and ethos as 'post-punk': the keen political cynicism of Watch Your Back, Take 'Em All chronicling the casual cruelties of a music industry ride experienced and survived, Where Are They Now? calling to account some of 77's champions (Joe Strummer, Julie Burchill, Tony Parson, Jimmy Pursey) for their failure to stick by the ideals they espoused to their wide-eyed audiences hungry for something different (as of 2017 the answer to that question with regards to its subjects is : dead, cunt, cunt, engaged in an ongoing legal (and possibly philosophical) disputes to which of the two currently touring versions of their old band is the 'real' one). Even Shock Troops most confident declarations, We're Coming Back, England Belongs To Me, are songs of return and reaffirmation, in the face of doubt and fears, they're not mindless new bravery.

It's probably no surprise that Cock Sparrer later penned punk's finest old lad song to date, Because You're Young, a song that bolts the emotions of Yusuf Islam's Father and Son to the a series of crunching ringing chords and that East End bellow, a song of such weaponised paternalistic ruefulness that even its usage in a slick dayglo blockbuster like Guardians of the Galaxy can evoke a tickle of genuine feeling. This is a song that paints the inevitable clashes and missteps of youth with the sharp fondness of distance and time-worn experience. And that was released a full 23 years ago.

And it's now been a decade since their last album, 2007's Here We Stand, similarly full of songs impossible without a long life behind them like Did You Have a Nice Life Without Me?, a long-ago love ruminated upon wryly.

What has a band that's been around that long, been old that long, really got to say anymore? Where are they now?

Well they don't like social media for one thing. And yes that sounds like worst fucking old bloke shit imaginable, but somehow by taking an angle so far ignored by a thousand fuckshit hack thinkpieces, they make it entertaining. Cock Sparrer's take on the issue is that social media is just grassing on yourself, a perspective so far unconsidered and a whole lot more entertaining and plausible than any other I've encountered. The fact that it's also as catchy as anything helps, even if the idea of them referencing Linked In takes a while sink in.

Less explicitly dealing with the internet but still there in its bones, Nothing Like You is the song about the feeling of watching people you grow up with warp and shift rightwards, and in this day and age seems to apply most directly to the feeling of seeing someone you went to school with post an incoherent facebook rant about how great Nigel Farage is. "I  was born in a house like you/On a street like you/In a town like you" it bellows over the driving guitar and the same drumbeat they've been using since John Belushi was alive.

The album is smooth sounding. The riffs are wellworn and comfortable (I've Had Enough particularly recalls tourmates Rancid's Junkie Man), the guitar leads cut through with purpose, the vocals are warmed by decades. Nothing's unpredictable but that's really not the point here. Oi! has long been a cousin of pop-punk and its singalong anthems, leviathan choruses, terrace proud, that undeniable thrill of many voices drawn into one are utilised though in more than just platitudinous statements of unity.

Though of course they can do that if they want, and do it better than almost anyone. The album's bookended by a couple of solidarity anthems, One By One and Us Against the World, that are vague enough to apply to literally anyone but delivered with enough force to bring you along for the ride, get you singing along by halfway through the first chorus. Both recalling We're Coming Back in mode and One By One making explicit reference to their history, echoing Take Em All and namechecking Here We Stand.

Indeed, throughout the album the band's long history trails behind them, but it's used as weight and engine, lending depth and power to the songs that might seem trite in the hands of a band without their standing.

The chunky stomp of Believe displaying that dismissiveness that drove Watch Your Back still in full-force."You gotta try to enjoy life but that's a hard sell/When there's so many bastards in the world." Can't really argue with that. Believe also has a contemporary reference to internet trolls, more evidence of a band living in the present, aware of what's happening around them and not just falling into simple nostalgia.

Their penchant for character pieces like Riot Squad represented in songs like the bitter Family of One, the dismissive Contender which features maybe the best line on the album, "You were a bit of a cunt/But boy did you have some front", possibly the platonic ideal of an Oi! lyric. Even when you're old you still get your back put up by right dickheads.

Gonna Be Alright could be a companion to Because You're Young, here instead of a paternalistic headshaking at some teenage tearaway, it's aimed at the father seeing their daughter move beyond their parental grasp into a life of her own. Like that older song it has a tender sweetness built into it, one that is reinforced by this album's sweeping sincerity. There might be an implication that the person the song is directed at is on their way out and worried about a future they can't control. Punk is so good at screaming itself up in righteous fury at heavy fuckin wounds, massive sweeping blights, like police violence, toxic masculinity, nuclear war, that seeing that anthemic power pinpointed down to one terrifying personal moment of dark truth jars.

Every Step of the Way at first seeming like a similar number to Cockney Rejects' 2012 reactionary banger Your Country Needs You, instead morphing into something more. It's sung from the perspective of some rough-hewn guardian angel, standing beside people at the crucial moments that rise up before them to be fought through, not just war, but prison, cancer. Placing these more quotidian battles in the same lineage as the lionised fresh-faced soldiers of popular history. It's a fair stretch, but the depth of earnestness with which this whole album is delivered dares you to dismiss it as corny. The refusal to wink at itself, despite an obvious self-awareness that this band have long possessed, slowly comes into focus as something that could perhaps be thought of as dignity.

Like on Somebody's Brother, Somebody's Son, eschewing the gangfight bravado for the rawer useless consequence, a haunting breakdown of a life unlived, two families rended by a futile act.

Of course it's not perfect, even more so than Every Step of the Way, I've Had Enough skirts a certain Harry-Brown conservative line though it at least acknowledges the pointlessness of its self-pity. "We thought we were heroes/But it was just another day". Still, it's something of a misstep for a band that's been singing about thing's being kinda shit for 40 years sing about how uniquely bad it is that things are really shit now. I guess we all have days when we're all just fucked off with it.

But it doesn't succumb to such darkness and frustration. The London anthem In My Town finds the band still ready to roll on out and, despite the passage of years, maybe get on a bit of a mad one in a place that made them as "the night has secrets waiting to be found." It's not about a great night that they had many moons ago, it's about the fresh feelings possible, even if the environment that they're in is an intimately familiar one, Which is really what this album is. A certain balm at times but filled with life and loves, pains and pangs. A real life lived in a real tough world, the things that fall by the wayside, the ones that we hold close throughout it all. The things that matter.

Because where are they now? They're right here. How long will they be here? Well, not forever. We know that. But a while yet.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Barcelona - Extremo Nihilismo en Barcelona MLP

10 minutes of rage, Extremo Nihilismo En Barcelona and all that conjures. The whole record reverberates with the heavy sinister throb of a bomb siren, not just in the flickering razortongue keening that opens Bomba in chaos and riot, but a deeper migraine ache, a sicker bonedeep pounding, panicked warning-pulse riffs, a broken half-groove, held slightly too long for a sway, dug in slightly too deep for a swagger, too rapid and swinging for a trudge, returned to again and again, dying off, stabbing forwards, set aside temporarily for chugging rumble on Pasión, laid over with a manic bawling on Bomba, swerving into hard burn on Ansiedad, more conventional hardcore stampede on Seguidores del Orden, but slipped back into again and again, like a returning pain, a familiar monotonous dread curling back up to you, rising up your throat and spine and flooding your skull. That crunch underpins the record, holds it together for its short scabrous life, that and the scorching vocals, laced deep with poison and anguish, enunciating ferociously and biting hard, screaming beyond words on Mi Ciudad. A sirencall of hardcore fury, an ominous wailing or an aftermath scramble, encircling the violence and torment in doubtbells, nagging squalls, painting it maybe as the wild flowers blooming from the rotten mulch of your torture and distress.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Fuck SS - demo CS

Skinner: Only one question remains, gentlemen...what do we call ourselves?
Nigel: How about, "Handsome Homer Simpson Plus Three?"
Barney: I like it!
Apu: Wait, I do not.
Skinner: Er, um, we need a name that's witty at first, but that seems less funny each time you hear it.
Apu: How about, "The Be Sharps?" "Fuck SS?"
(Everyone laughs loud at first, then less, then the laughter tapers off)
Skinner: Perfect!
- Homer's Barbershop Quartet

From edge-pushing flirtation with fascist iconography a la Sid's notorious swastika shirt, to worn in and worn out nastypunk signifier, the SS appellation has proved almost as an enduring part of punk monikers as the Dis-prefix. From Japanese hardcore originators the SS and nearmythic neverwas potentiapunx London SS through Italian teenage lo-fi KBD idiots Hitler SS and Swedish rawpunk legends Crude SS (who maybe did more to popularise it than anyone else) all the way up to the present day and the likes of this band right here. Deployed for ironic juxtaposition (Black SS, Reagan SS, Sunshine SS, Lysol SS, Honnor SS, Stress SS, Stakanov SS, Blank SS, Harper SS, Stepdad SS) or just some shockrock collision of repulsive grotesqueries (White SS, Reagan SS, Attack SS, Heroin SS, Genocide SS) or even painting anything into a fearsome regiment of death (Tampere SS, Kajun SS, Ctakahoø SS, Netjajev SS, Veuve SS, Tempe SS). Commonly cited as Society System, but with those everpresent acrid Schutzstaffel overtones, it's a reminder of punk's eternal inability to sweep clean its vulgar obnoxious corners, guaranteed to get you some off looks, some sly chuckles, some knowing nods, guaranteed to lock you out of any fucking chance of being anything other than a way shitty basement punk band, just the way you'd probably want it.

So here's a list of free topical SS-based bandnames for anyone on the lookout, some of which may or may not get you sued:
Aspiration SS
Austerity SS
Neoliberal SS
Mortgages SS
Osborne SS
Corbyn SS
Obama SS
Skip Bayle SS
Newscorp SS
Trump SS
Walmart SS
Wholefoods SS
Fuckboy SS
Upworthy SS
Tumblr SS
Smartphone SS
Di SS (or maybe Dis SS)
Drake SS
Beyhive SS
Meme SS
Actually SS
T-shirt SS
Prince SS

It's also an interesting insight into the subtle details of associations. Flip that SS to the front of the word (SS Decontrol, SS Kaliert) and it brings to mind a big fucking boat more than a bunch of murderous scum. Or go the other way and drop a stray space somewhere onto carefree innocent band names and the meaning immediately slides into the dark, Crass become Cra SS, Piss become Pi SS, The New Dress become The New Dre SS. La Urss, Rock Goddess, Gess, Juntess, Gay Kiss, Kiss, The Mighty Mighty Bo SS Tones all end up grubbier and shittier and in the same realm as bands like the The Mau Maus, Joy Division, Adolf Hitler Klan, Sieg Heil, Nazi Dust, Marilyn Manson, Boston Strangler, Viet Cong, Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge, Jack & the Rippers, Doctor & the Crippens, Slaves, Massacre 68 and others who have or have not caught varying degrees of shit over their decision to emblazon something as ultimately trite and trivial as a rock and roll band with the moniker associated with the very worst moments and decisions and trends in human history.

SS's staying power probably springs from a particular balance of comic dulling and resonant notoriety, fed and sculpted by the constant pop culture presence of the Nazis, Hitler long more meme than man, running for election in a sleepy Somerset town in Monty Python, smashing through windows in Danger 5, his soldiers the go-to evil monsters for any guilt-free blast-em-all war movie along the lines of Where Eagles Dare, even profound attempts to get to grips with the horrible humanity present somewhere within like Downfall get flattened into safe silliness by endless youtube variations, all these things (and thousands more) putting us at some psychological remove from the disgusting truth of them and their acts. And the notoriety/familiarity coming into play cos there's no point tagging your band LRM and then spending loads of time explaining what the Lord's Resistance Movement is, you want that immediate jolt of shockvalue recognition.

"How many years was it between Charlie Manson being the terror of California and Charlie Manson being an image on joke t-shirts? I have a shirt somewhere with a pic of his face and, underneath it, the words CHARLIE DON'T SURF. Hitler's a cartoon figure now. Eminem dressed up as bin Laden within a couple of years of 9/11. It's interesting to me how we defang our nightmares -- by mocking them, but also by wearing their skins." - Warren Ellis

So here we have a contender for possibly the most spitefully moronic name yet (still waiting on a Cunt SS but I'm sure punk will make that leap some day). This demo comes emblazoned with a crossed out totenkopf, raising yet another interesting linguistic wrinkle, the difference in visions conjured by the name Fuck SS (sex party swinger death squad) and Fuck The SS (righteous antifa headkickers). It's all wretched out screams echoed into incomprehensibility and submerged deep in the filth and squawl of furious poundings and crushing raw guitar rage, from Trend On, bass thrum into crash and chaotic clinking, to the weirdo 1-2 stomp/warble of Social Real Estate, shadows of a sneer somehow present in the bonefeel of the blasted-out screams, descending into utter shitstorm panic. Slow Club's roll feeding into a superspeed thrash that rattles with grindcore relentlessness. Father's Day born out that noise, getting into jump-up punk beat, running itself over with weird scribbleshatters, exploding, fading. It's a compelling mix of modern punk's smoothest touchstones, d-beat fills, käng reminiscences, pogo guts, vocals like the excavated field-recordings of a rebellious tortured ghost, carrying a certain playful snot through hellish howls, like a tape-decayed longlost Comes demo filtered and churned up with Fader War noise.

Bloody dumb name though.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Cianuro - demo CS

Showcasing more of London's current vibrant and heaving punk scene, a tape of stabbing midtempo Spanish-invasion punx featuring members of Frau/No/Retrofuture, a venomous razorwire shimmying, shaking with rage, stomping with life, deepened and coarsened by the brokenglass vocals. The spasmodic scratchings of the guitar, the rumbling sway of the bass, the pop and kick of the drums. Cancion De Amor particularly is a vicious mover, at once a dancefloor filler, a fierce bomb. Scraped together and vindictive, cutthroat and catchy.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Steel Chains - Demo 2015 CS

Choppy poppy punk, running along like a pumped-up version of Screaming Sneakers's Violent Days, half-wistful guitar lines cutting across the songs, with a similar melodic bellow to The Gateway District teasing the most out of the lyrics about difficult routes through life strewn with broken ties and solid mistakes, and the stubborn persistence and ultimate reaffirmation that eventually flowers in the wake of these lessons learnt hard. "Things have been tough and/Things have been strange/There have been horrors, and we know by/And we know" as Instincts says.