Saturday, 14 September 2013

Night Birds - Born to Die in Suburbia

"Evan: My mom's diary. Listen to this:  "May 10th, 1968. Dear diary, Mark and I are gonna be very happy here.The air is clear, skies are blue, and all the houses are brand new and beautiful. They call it "suburbia" and that word's perfect because it's a combination of the words "suburb" and "utopia".
Jack: They didn't realize it would be the slum of the future." - from Suburbia

Suburbia! Home of the teen punx, where nothing ever fucking happens, home all sorts of deranged kids, engaged in the same sort of pursuits, forming skate crews with a bunch of arseholes, trekking miles to watch shows and getting stranded in the city not making it back til the sun's rising and fooling themselves into thinking shit ain't so bad for a little while, longing for escape still, staying up too late watching classic genre movies, getting way into Wes Craven, Roger Corman, John Carpenter, godfather of vulgar auteurism, whose theme to his post-apoc masterwork Escape From New York is taken from brooding synth menace to sharp punk slice in the opening track. That totally fucking raises the game in terms of punk covers. Shit, we all love a quick Doom or Dicks cover chucked in at the end of the opening bands set as a quick crowdpleaser, giving those choral communal instincts a work out, but man, in terms of constructing a punk cover as something else, into more than just a warm homage to one of those bits of our collective consciousness, or a thrashy arsehole detournement of a top 40 pop song, into something that ups the danger and retains what made the original so great, this just can't be beat, all that Carpenter ominous futurefeel, twisted and pull tight over a rusty bent punk skeleton, and then skipping to a fast beat.

The title track that follows, revels in suburbia's boredom, none of those vaulting slamdancing joy of Screeching Weasel's Hey Suburbia, just surrender to the stupefactive pressures of it all, withdrawing into a coddling cocoon. Night Birds don't give a shit about tomorrow, but they also don't give a shit about today too. This song does hint at deeper nastier things, "IF THE SKELETONS IN MY CLOSET COULD TALK YOU KNOW I'D BE LOCKED UP!"  and what those pressures are gradually revealed and torn at over the course of this album.

It's a set-up for the album a bit like Propagandhi's Natural Disasters, ("The most pristine are hiding everything." something sanitised is just a sheen laid over a bubbling lake of filth, it's an open sewer paved over, the shit is still there, deep in the core, corrupting and murderous, behind the warm smiles there are malevolent grins, the sharpness of the Night Birds sound brings the grins out.

Those deeper nastier pressures include idiots. Modern Morons is a scathing quick scatterpunk attack on idiots, and the society they have built, shots fired at plastic surgery, bodybuilders, reality TV, politicians, stoners, drunks, consumerism in the vein of 80s hardcore shouts like 76% Uncertain's Waste Product or Attitude Adjustment's Hunger and Poverty. Brian Gorsegner snotty vocals crackle with menace and outrage, as they do throughout this album. They can sneer, they can drone, they can scream, they do all those things, and they dance with Joe Keller's (nee Erg!) backing vocals throughout. Every song on this album is good, but especially every chorus, on this song Gorsegner's voice intercuts with Keller's dry intonation of "MODERN MORONS MODERN MORONS MODERN MORONS" which run together almost to a point of semantic satiation where the meaning drops away and you're just left with the percussive point.

"Excavate a land for restless days
Contemplate a chance for future ways" - The Skids, Sweet Suburbia

These pressures include drugs. No Spoilers is a perfect pulp action/shit life mix, a 40 second, all-burn, hardcore punk snap taking the language of cinema and film fan discussions and applying it to heroin addiction. "NO SPOILERS BUT YOU GET REDUCED TO NOTHING/TAKEN OUT BY YOUR MACGUFFIN/AND YOUR STORY'S JUST A HOLLYWOOD TROPE" framing that tragic and predictable descent into the living death of junk as just another tired story, coldly cutting the romanticism of drugs down with a bored viewer's dismissiveness. "FIRST ACT'S A BLAST/NEXT ACT GOES FAST/IT ENDS WITH YOU ALL COLD AND BLUE."

Nazi Gold, creepy mid-tempo jaunt of Sven Hassel pulp and fried brains, is similar in its combination of the tack and turn of drugs played moviewise, here the drugs are not the straight-shot to oblivion seen from the outside like No Spoilers, but a numbing backstabbing friend described from within that sluggish decaying warmth. "There's a hole downstairs that leads to another hole." it intones like the Lethe-wards slips of Keats's Ode to a Nightingale as the guitars moan and ache instead of slash.

Those pressures include adverts. Ads In My Eyes, like Modern Morons, it's about the cumulative effect of modern society's absurdities moving from background noise to oppressive stamp, parasitically digging their way into you until you can't imagine life without this thing you fucking hate. Another incredible chorus, this time with a sort of factory rhythm like the blankness of cartoon worker drones. Another another drug, another pain.

Those pressures include violence. Domestic Dispute is packed with oppressive guitar shrieks like the somehow throbbing weird corners of a darkened room when you cannot sleep for fucking anything. Channeling the chaotic skittery sleep-deprivation of Vindictives Apt #2 and the wry trauma of Gay Cowboys in Bondage's Domestic Battlefield, invoking the sense of being trapped in a world of violence but not being able to bring yourself to do anything about it, deadened as you are by the narcotics, the ads, the cults, the lack of hope, the fuckwits, trapped as the song tumbles down in the chorus and then wails away into another verse.

"It already started in the city!
SUBURBIA will be just as easy!"
- FEAR, Let's Have a War

These pressures include religion. New Cults is a sarcastic scream for salvation, tossing out the dead wood of the Abrahamic faiths, in favour of the weird-ass backwoods cults, Jim Jones, David Koresh, other egregiously shitty modern day prophets, held up as avatars of a shitty violent narcissistic world. In this song, with its shivering guitar lines and its backing vocals aaaaaah-ing like a subverted church choir, the purpose of religion here is not to redeem, but to reflect, we get the idols we deserve, and maybe we can deal with a crazy world by embracing the obviously crazy, rather than aiming for obviously unreachable goals like not being a fucking cunt to everyone who thinks differently to you, the sort of airy stuff that pie-in-the-sky hippie dreamers like that Jesus bloke went for.

These pressures include family. Less The Merrier, the Christmas bummer anthem, more biting and bitter than the Ramones' mournful Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight), it's that song inverted, where no-one is fighting and you can't understand why. "EVERYONE'S PRETENDING THAT THEY'RE NOT A SELFISH PIECE OF SHIT" is the opening line of this mid-tempo slammer. Everyone's torn up and scummy inside, like Propagandhi's Natural Disasters said, so what's the point of pretending otherwise, if the Ramones song was the child's dream of peace, this song is the teenager's fury at the hypocrisy of people claiming that peace can ever exist, so torn up by this life and these drugs, the outside violence and interior stresses that push and pull, the ads, the cults, the fuckwits the lack of hope, that you can't let that warring attitude go for one single second, fully corrupted. "I DON'T WANT TO CELEBRATE/JUST SIT IN THE DARK/TELL EVERYONE TO FUCK OFF!" where the "FUCK OFF!" manages to escape from the rhythm of the song to just flame out, to hit heavy and ugly and discordant in the way that precision swearing can.

“… We only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban… novel… a cheap novel.” - Werner Herzog

The hate of this album is played like an attempt to feel something, better loathing than nothing, Villa Obscura lays it out: "CREATURE COMFORTS ARE A SUBTLE PILL/THEY'RE THE KIND THAT DULLS AND NEVER KILLS" When the songs burst with caustic sarcasm, it's like a vain attempt to draw a line between one's self and the aphotic world evoked by the sinister chops of music.

There's also an instrumental in Silver Alert, you know, like what a proper surf band would do. This album is less surfy than their previous stuff, probably cos nutso floorcrawling guitarist Mike Hunchback has been replaced by PJ Russo, but this one does play like it could fit on a fiercer version of The Volcanos' Surf Quake or something whereas most of the rest of the album retains a bit of that DK sound but is really more like Black Market Baby's perfect mixture of early 80s hardcore fury and earlier punk's cutdown rock-and-roll structures, a song like Villa Obscura could easily sit right in the middle of Senseless Offerings, and Nazi Gold is right there with something like This Year's Prophet and like Culo they balance the hardcore punk fury with songs that you hum for days. Joe Keller has long been on of the best punk bassists and the drums, well, I don't really know how to describe drums apart from saying that "Yes, there are drums" but they do that clattery thing which gives a bunch of the songs the ripping rhythm of a mug dragged against prison bars.

"There’s disobedience in the streets
In all of suburbia’s dreams
Kids are tired of the same old things
Drive in movies and football games"
- Faction, Skate Harassment

One song that's not so terrifyingly bleak in its subject is the title track of the EP that preceded this album, and despite all the great songs here, still the best thing this band has ever done: MAIMED FOR THE MASSES. What better example of suburban frustration and its undercurrent of violence than professional wrestling, the daily tedium of expectation and school-job-marriage-kids-death narratives taken out to the backyard and suplexed through a flaming table. What could be more punx than violent nerds in weird costumes engaging cheap hammy melodrama? At a recent punk festival I went to the t-shirt that I saw get by far the most props and high-fives in the sea of sweet punk shirts was not some obscure Scandi raw punk thing, but an airbrush-style early 90s Four Horsemen number. There's a sweet London punk band called Slug whose lead singer bases their entire stage persona on the Road Dogg, and it's awesome.

This is a first person song from the point-of-view of wrestler/punching bag/author/true American hero Mick Foley and his Pessoan personas Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love. Blood lost in pursuit of patent falsehoods, gloried in self-destruction. A man who achieved what he did by basically being willing to get more ridiculously fucked-up than anyone else, a chubby scrappy weirdo fucking up massive cut dudes by taking more punishment and getting nasty with wire and tacks. The Night Birds gets all this cartoonish glory and skewiff tragedy right there in this song, the first verse all shithead adolescent ambition tailing out with "TEN POUNDS OF GOLD AROUND MY WAIST THAT SAYS I'M THE BEST/BUT WE ALL KNOW THAT IT WAS NOT TO BE!"

My absolute favourite Mick Foley moment is when Mankind was feuding with Triple H before the 2000 Royal Rumble and they were booked for a no holds barred street fight, then a while before it happened Triple H and some D-X dudes messed Mankind up so he comes out and says he's too fucked, he's not gonna fight, he can't fight, but the people deserve a replacement.

AND IT'S CACTUS JACK! IT'S JUST HIM TAKING HIS MASK OFF! AND THE CROWD GOES WILD! TRIPLE H LOOKS LIKE HE'S GAZED INTO THE FACE OF GOD! Man, that's everything right there. The blatant falseness and artifice of the situation entirely ignored and it all played so fucking straight, both by the people involved and the whole crowd. The starting point of: hey, this whole thing is a dumb fucking joke. Followed by: so let's buy into it wholly and completely cos it's fun and awesome. That's that Who Killed Spikey Jacket? shit right there, that Hard Skin trip.

"SOLD OUT EVERY NIGHT! LON CHANEY IN TIGHTS!" pulling a bit more of that classic pulpy imagery, that they used a lot more on their earlier stuff, it's theatrical but wild and the sort built for manic singalongs. "NOW I'M A MONSTER! MY BODY'S BEEN DESTROYED/BUT HERE I STAND! STILL GAINFULLY EMPLOYED/READY TO MAIM MYSELF FOR THE MASSES TO ENJOY/IT'S ALL IN A HARD DAY'S WORK FOR MRS FOLEY'S BABY BOY!"

It's also easily the most positive song on the album, one of dreams realised more than you ever thought they could ever be, yeah its hero ends up bleeding and beaten, but they stand resilient at the end, way fucked up but unbowed, whereas the other couple narrative songs (rather than angry rant songs) all end on complete downers, to build yourself into something worse, something disgusting that society and suburbia's thin veneer propriety of cannot countenance is the only way to live not on their terms.

In Pretty Poison the protagonist attempts to expose the corruption they've been witness to, but sucked into a dangerous vortex as ends up embracing whatever safety they can find, like in Born to Die in Suburbia, wherever they can find it, this time in a mental institution, the song darts forward in squeals and tricky punk bursts.

Golden Opportunity, the closer, is a song is from the point of view of someone about take a header off the Golden Gate Bridge, screaming from that awful fog of depression, where the only freedom, the only, choice is to close off the noise, escape once and for all from the pressures and drugs, in life, religion, narcotics etc. "I WILL NOT EXPLAIN MYSELF TO ANYONE/IT'S MY LIFE AND I CHOOSE WHEN IT'S DONE!" "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." as Camus said, cos he was a bit of a twat. This song, and its place at the end of the album is more like the Steve Aylett line, "Suicide is a permanent solution to an ever-replenishing series of temporary problems" moving fast towards that permanence, until it smashes into itself and chops into a slower, polluted trudge, to break up into noise squeals and feedback as the album fades out like a life.

"Frank: I've walked a white line my entire life, I'm not about to screw that up.
Nada: White line's in the middle of the road, that's the worst place to drive." from - John Carpenter's They Live

Carpenter was someone who could who make thrilling low down nasty shit, but imbue it with a greater resonance, a more human take, the sense of a larger broken world beyond just one fucked-up place, or one fucked-up person (I once got shown They Live in a university seminar on the history of California in a double bill with John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath) but then similarly not let that larger context drown and overload the story, not letting the survival tension slip, not letting the shittiness of this particular situation get sidelined in a wider message, and that's how Night Birds do it, each song evoking an aspect of modern life and its mundanities that bums you the fuck out, each song part of a greater whole of an assault on a whole shithouse world that bums you the fuck out, each song coming from a place of pain and self-acknowledgement within those broken things (it's "WE NEED NEW CULTS!" not 'they' etc) rather than downwards-aiming superiority, but each song its own shape, its own specific angle of attack, its own terrific serrated riffs and catchy singalong choruses. Each jagged frustrated piece, from the trudge of Nazi Gold, to the blast of No Spoilers, to the triumph of Maimed for the Masses and the unflinching end of Golden Opportunity, tesselates into this dark, irresistible slab of punk rock anger and outrage, that combination of clattering cuthroat power and songs that get embedded in your head as deep as any advert or cult or smothering drug, to scream and sneer like a weapon against today.

"Birth and birth and birth and birth and birth
Live and live and live and live and live
Mate and mate and mate and mate and mate
Die and die and die and die and die" - The Skids, Sweet Suburbia

On Grave Mistake in the US, Taken by Surprise in Europe.

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