Monday, 18 November 2013

Direct Hit! - Brainless God

tense fucking shit when a band whose logo you have decided to etch indelibly into your skin decides to release new music. I don't have to worry about the Hickey H on my leg as that band are dear departed, but having already dodged the Screeching Weasel bullet, no-one wants to join the group of people who got Gaslight Anthem tats after Sink or Swim, or got Anti-Nowhere League jobs before The Perfect Crime came out (though to be honest, an Anti-Nowhere League tattoo was always gonna be somewhere in the top ranks of bad decisions from moment needle hit skin). So I was kinda on edge for one of my favourite bands' new album.

Selfie of the Artist as a Young Dog
And it got worse when I heard a couple of the preview tracks and they sounded pretty slick. Slick, as in well-produced. I generally try not to harp on about production, because focusing on production in punk reviews it always just the most boring shit ever and generally seems like a transparent attempt on behalf of the writer to go "Oh look how mature I'm being knowing that music is something made by people in rooms." Fuck that, music is numinous adolescent shit for dancing to and crying over, I will treat it as sillily and ridiculously and pretentiously as I possibly can.

But yeah it sounded kinda slick, and slick is a word I only like to use when I am giving a nickname to a greaser that I have beef with in the musical that is my everyday life, and combined with the fact that I was not too into Domesplitter (I love all those songs, I'm just generally not down with rerecordings if they don't alter the song significantly in someway like Proxy's Police Car's development from demo to 7", OG KEASBEY 4 LYFE) I was definitely worried. Maybe it was just use of the words 'first date' in the song Buried Alive, the song I heard first, that brought up memories of First Date, one of Blink-182's most Blink-182 songs, and I'm just not really into that anymore.

What I did not see coming was that the song Buried Alive was not just a throwaway goofy love song, but a serial killer section of a greater narrative, a concept album about the end of the world, and not in like the way that d-beat albums are about the end of the world ("YEAH WE'RE DISPEPSIA AND WE SING ABOUT ALL THE TOPICS: NUCLEAR WAR, NUCLEAR WINTER, WAR NUKES, NUCLEAR BOMBS, NUCLEAR ARSENALS, NUCLEAR SUMMERS, FISSION-POWERED NUCLEAR ROBOT DOGS") but a collection of songs telling, from a bunch of criss-crossing perspectives, the tale of the eschaton immanentized. In this sense the full wider sound of it all apt, a big sound for a big story, works, an angelic sheen for songs of angels descending, like the way Shitlickers layered guitars like a motherfucker to get that end-of-the-world blast on their raw punk d-beat classics, but put to shinier, brighter purpose in big lifting pop-punk swells.

One thing it doesn't focus on too much though is the mechanics of that destruction, there are a bunch of references to bombs falling, but the album's focus is on consequences not causes, humans (not just humanity) faced with the nothingness rushing towards them, not the blundering brinkmanship or nationalist posturing that brought the curtain down. It's a story that works on a few levels. There seems to be something of a throughline, that you can kind of work out but it's shady and hinted at and uncertain. The main thing is a bunch of people confronting an end, maybe the end, a personal as well as a wider one. On & On and The World Is Ending (No-One Cares) open with a couple of overviews of the situation, one screamingly defiantly against the black ("LET'S GET PLASTERED ONE MORE TIME!"), the other a snotty righteous putdown of sinners. That's the first hint of this albums multi-pronged approach to armageddon, coming in from different angles, stuff like Buried Alive and Getting What He Asked For are third person. Bank of Elevators, White Robes, Back to the Tower and more are first-person, but from different characters.

A lot of the songs fit together in pairs like that. Buried Alive are both macabre stories of violent lives facing armageddon, one a serial killer, one an avenging victim of domestic violence. Buried Alive is a weird one, somewhere close to parodic and blackly comic, but with enough specificity and real emotion to give it consequence, and of course set up against that rushing doom that shoots up the tension in all. It's that uncertainty and switching up of viewpoints and tones, ghostly forgiveness, dark irony, drawn-out relief, that prevents it falling into that sort of cloying cutesy serial-killer stuff of bad 'adult' dramas and Hannibal Lecter twitter accounts.

Getting What He Asked For might be sharper in its cut off, more sudden, the righteousness gets shit on but the selfish evil of Buried Alive doesn't. What really gets closure here? The song's asking something brutal. Can even the cunt in Buried Alive taste redemption? Can even the victory of GWHAF's protagonist get stolen out of from under them. The last line screams "It's not so fucking depressing" but I'm not sure if that's true. It certainly thrills fore it snaps apart whereas Buried Alive just makes you feel weird, but it's a testament to the sequencing of this album that the pairing of these songs makes each other stronger, more complex, playing off each other in the different applications of murder, the different feel of the end hitting, with some uncomfortable stuff to say about the possible pointlessness of it all.

The idea of a brainless or absent deity has echoes of Garth Ennis's Preacher or Chronicles Wormwood, of maybe the heavenly detour of Angels in America. It's a rage at absences, at irresponsibility from those entrusted with it the most. It works on an anti-god trip, but even on the level of someone who's never bought into that line when they weren't high as hell and depressed watching What Dreams May Come at 4am it seems like a great rage to be a part of, that scream against the idea that things are ultimately fucked, meaningless, out-of-control, that we were lied to, cos we were, by someone. It's something somewhat like a soaring chorus for those days when you get so fucked off with the world that you end up daydreaming that that shit was real just so shitty people would go to hell when they die.

It is also wordy as hell. This might be the first album I've reviewed where the word count of the lyrics has a shot at outreaching the word count of this review (we'll see about that, ya cunts). Cos it jumps around with the perspectives you end up with a lot of different character songs sung in the voices of angels or suicides or desperate lovers. The characters are well drawn through dialogue, lines packed with nice natural bleed and softness to the language, words imbued with caginess and euphemism, the edges fraying with litotes and couching language. "It's kind of awkward to admit that I've been less than forthright when I implied that I was ready to die" on I Told You a Lie scuffs with shamefaced admittal. The sort of non-commital bureaucratic coaxing on Bank of Elevators, about a a dead soul facing damnation, or purgatory or pressganging into heaven's service. "When you’re done, see me here and we’ll discuss compensation – If there’s something I can say, it’s we’re especially patient." It leads to a lot of cleverly structured Sloppy Seconds double rhymes, cluttered torrential slaps of words, enjambement running over.

It's cool but it's weird for a band that tends so clearly to the anthemic to construct songs of such lyrical density, it means that when I saw them I spent like 3 days listening to the songs intently trying to learn the words and then just got too drunk/excited to remember all but the choruses, and even a bunch of the choruses do that thing where they change up with each one.

There's an Auld Lang Syne style refrain that comes up a couple of times through the album, drawing that choral flourish of ending and loss and rebirth into this punkpopalypse dance. Cos there's a lot of denial in this album, as much as there is acceptance, a lot of bargaining and and ugly discomfort and threads-left-hanging as much as there is conclusion. The messiness and contradictory nature of this album is what makes it. Sometimes joyous, sometimes hateful, sometimes despairing, sometimes all these things and more smashing into each other. Sometimes the end seems meaningless and arbitrary, sometimes it throws everything that matters into stark relief and then on I Told You A Lie it even acknowledges the idea of setting lives against the situation in that fashion and the way that that's probably not a very smart way or helpful to frame things "In fact the truth is I've only used this to understand why we're all here." It escapes and dodges away from easy answers. It's a conflicted album, sonically, thematically, silky whoa-ohs fly into angry barks. Heaven is a Black Hole, a song that reverberates with sweet harmonies and heavenly echoes still has a stumbling moment of indecision where it all shudders to a stop in the middle. It can switch between silly-sweet classic Steinwaysesque buzzpop lines like "Cause in a minute we'll be isotopes all jumbled up/Doesn't that give you some hope that we can end up together?" on White Robes to searing pain on We're Fucked.

We're Fucked, a straight up hardcore rippper, like their split with Hold Tight!, burning with the fury of betrayed suicides. If more pop-punk bands are gonna start throwing hardcore bangers into their stuff (like how RVIVR did earlier this year of The Hunger Suite Part II: Dark Territory) then I'm down with it, more pop-punk bands should forget they're not Die Kreuzen for a minute and a half and punch holes in the glistening wings of the anthems with a bunch of screaming anger in the middle of the album, bursting with pain and voidborn rage, "We'll pluck out your eyes so they won't see the end/We'll box out your ears so they can't hear the end". This fury is brought-up again at the end of I Told You A Lie which shifts gears from a mid-tempo crooner into a panicked rush that leads into the confident punch of Home To You which slams straight into a dramatic bomb blast.

And then the end. The end of all these endings. How can you do that? Such an intricate chaotic thing, swirling with brawling boxed-out emotions, what seem like possibly dozens of stories, all hinting at dozens, hundreds, thousands more. Packed as much with bleakness and anger as it is with romance. Like I said, there's a narrative here, buried and cut up like its characters, obscured and tricky to unpick but that's unimportant ultimately, being secondary to the flux of human feeling that pours from every song in every different way. How can you sum all that up with one big closer? Well, it ends with a song about fucking up angels. Yeah, maybe it's kinda easy to bring everything all into one fantastic upwards tear, a shining coming together of all the twisted broken souls streaming, smiling and violence in their hearts, towards the gates of heaven, but the wide warm singalong of lines "WE WANT OUT WHISKEY BOTTLES BACK NOW/OUR GUITARS AND AMPLIFIERS/COS THIS NIGHT AIN'T OVER TIL WE SAY IT'S DONE!" grab everytime as it rolls back seamlessly into a reprise of the similarly joyous and unrepentant On and On. It an album built of endings, painful ones, triumphant ones, sudden ones, that goes up against the finality and futility of it all but can't help but loop back in on itself in an endless humane and life-filled continuation of the fuck-yous and the get-pumpeds that runs like a river on, communal and victorious, vicious and companionless, making you lose the idea that it's some tense, really

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