Saturday, 22 February 2014

Rats Blood - Punks is Mutants

Frightening depressive rawpunk from Ireland. Following on from their eight track demo, which screamed "This country's died a thousand times/Look at the past/Look back and laugh" and proclaimed "Ireland is falling apart. Stick together. Up the Punks." This is another potent melding of bleak futures with punk strength, riding Totalitar coarseness and Bastard blare up to the edge of the abyss. Rats Blood's is a world of monsters, of sadists in power, of invisible prisons, forces so malignant as to read demonic, drugs and nuclear threat and corporate neglect and the legitimised savagery of police violence as cruel looming titans, consuming the world.

No Exit is pure pain, Socio-Apathy pure rage. Heroin is as frustrated with the lack of empathy and easy moralising as it is angry with the dulling scourge of opiates: "I have friends/Who've fought wars alone/Who the fuck/Are you to judge?" Therein lies the resistance, cos though these soul-eating evils are big bad motherfuckers, there's no reason to succumb to their logic, to treat them as a just leveler, like the guilty always get arrested and the innocent always go free, like the poor deserve to be poor. Rats Blood refuses to be caught in the sway of the late-capitalist sanctimony, it refuses to join the righteous who will pave the road to hell will good intentions and a daddy-knows-best stripping of agency. Because, as it may roar on No More Fukushima, we are caught in "Arrogant human ambition/Mindless march into hell" Rats Blood will survive, they will hold it down, because they're punks. And PUNKS IS MUTANTS. GISM as tetragrammaton, their deep violent weirdness as a staging post in an expedition in the futuredark. Rats Blood live in a hateful world and are forged in that hate, ready to breathe in the toxic air and let it feed a toxic heart. "We will survive in the blistering heat/We will survive in the snow/We will survive in the blistering heat/Because we're scum". Do not gleam but ooze, slither between cracks, lurk like sneakthieves, a scabrous underbelly built for disdain. Punks as pestilent avengers, transforming the interior chaos of No Exit into a scabby armour, the world drowning in filth and punks as sewer creatures, swimming free, ready for the wave to come. In each uncomfortable future or fantastic dystopia, from Futurama to Demolition Man to The Wind Singer, Metropolis, there are basement dwellers, who survive, who live down there in the gloom. That's Rats Blood place, from where they lay out six tracks of anguish and excoriation, six tracks of unflinching raw punk tearing at the shames of the world, laying them bare with apocalyptic clarity.

Pistol Joke - We Just Shit

Superspeed punk bouncing up and down with drunken momentum. Fuzz cut with squeaks and packed with rough idiot force while impressionistic manglings of language scream at you. "Fuss in Drunk!! Kick you!!". "Broken English. Sorry..." reads the liner notes, not apologising however for breaking eardrums, reveling in its chaos, its broken music, toddler tantrums and beery confidence swirled together in simplistic noise and pogo-punk squalls. An abrasive idiocy constructed on a runaway train. "Non stop drunk punk!! Non stop chaos punk!!" 

Friday, 21 February 2014

No Sir I Won't - The Door

“To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality." - Pierre Joseph Proudhon

"Who are you? What are you? What do you do? What are you doing? What are you doing it for? What are you doing it for?" - Flux of Pink Indians, Some of Us Scream Some of Us Shout

Acute anarcho worship from members of Brain Killer, Witches With Dicks, Libyans, on Framework records. Six songs of often martial fury, punk rock scrawled and clothed in the classic sounds of the likes of Conflict, Lost Cherrees, Flux of Pink Indians, Subhumans and, of course, Crass. These songs spin with a seething, the guitars crackling, the instruments feeling like precarious individual parts, the bass shudder, drum slaps and guitar sweeps and spikes, all discernible parts, moving forward, playing and pinballing off each other, in that jagged anarcho way.

But something that comes up sometimes is that if Crass and their ilk were a situational (not situationist) response to their circumstances, what does worship say? What does a New England band working in the milieu of Stations of the Crass or The Ungovernable Force thirty odd years later do. OG anarcho-punk's anger and aggression wasn't limited to its lyrics, its rawness and sharpness came, and comes, from the abrasive swagger of its music, which had not been heard before in quite that manner. Yeah it was drawing on earlier forms as all is but who sounds like Crass before Crass? Surely part of their brash fucking power was the fact that something like Yes Sir, I Will or Nagasaki Nightmare or even the inept 1-2 buzz of Feeding of the 5000 hits screams with fresh sonic fury. What is it for a band as apparently forward looking in much of its philosophy to be so rooted in the past in its core sound? If they really want to stab heartily into the future with the fervor of now, should they be embracing the sonancies of vaporwave or seapunk, wrapping their treatises on our dislocation and poverty around the pumping bassline of a post-brostep banger?

The way punk won, if it did win at all, was to get itself so stuck in the public imagination as synonymous with rebellion, that for many the sight of mohawks and leather studs is one inextricable from that of violent resistance, it's shorthand for petrolbombs thrown at massed ranks of faceless riot cops, corporate coffee shops left trashed. These simplicities are invariably some anti-art bullshit, there's more in punk than just an adolescent crash against the state (though there really is that) just as there's more to reggae than weed and peace and love platitudes, more to jazz than looking smooth sipping on whiskey and smoking cigarettes, more more to pop than disposability and choruses, but just focusing on this wellworn aesthetic as a natty shorthand for their political/radical groundstaking is not what No Sir I Won't are doing, that's clear, it's not a cheap simplifying reading of punk's spiky political complications, but a deep engagement with some of its best and boldest traditions. So why still does that uneasiness strike me sometimes on this record?

It's not just a kneejerk reaction against all traditions. Often these questions do not concern me and I have no trouble with worship bands, with those reiterations, reworkings, slavish copies and loving facsimiles of the aesthetic that awakened and gave voice to our formative yearnings for what might be called a better world. I listen to a pretty embarrassing amount of generic d-beat. I dug Long Knife's Wilderness album last year and that stuck closer to Poison Idea's sound than No Sir I Won't do to Crass or Flux of Pink Indians'. I think maybe here it's the particularities of the place and time that this stuff springs from. 80's Britain looms a lot larger in my imagination than mid-80s Portland does. In fact, I know precisely two things about mid-80s Portland: 1) That's where Poison Idea are from. 2) The Trailblazers really really fucked-up the 1984 NBA Draft. And I'm pretty sure Plastic Bomb is not inspired by the anguish of passing on Michael Jordan only for him to go and rearrange the world with the Bulls while Sam Bowie's legs shattered like breadsticks. But the 80s in Britain, that's where I'm from, yeah, I grew up in the 90s, my direct memories of Thatcher are very faint, but a lot of the British culture that influenced me deeply was stuff forged in the crucible of Thatcherism, not just in stuff like Judge Dredd, with its fascist starkness, and the Young Ones, with its dissolute anarchy and glorious filth, and, of course, fucking Crass, but stuff made by writers and musicians who did come of age in that decade, who felt its Clause 28s and mining strikes and deep abiding hate cloak them, drag them down. Thatcher, or an imaginary Thatcher, a ghostly version of her constructed from Chumbawamba songs, family stories, Warren Ellis comics, clouds my vision, makes me feel that there was something unique there, beyond the ordinary cruelty of the political classes, casting a long shadow that I'm not sure, on one level, can be replicated, even though I know really that right now that Westminster's packed to its stinking gills with smirking Bullingdonclub cunts doing their damnedest. There is this reverse nostalgia at play when you're aware of the terrors and iniquities of the past, ("In your day we had to march 20 miles to protest, uphill both ways!") like things were so bad that they can't ever be that bad again, a pernicious attitude that opens the door for the erosion of rights, the robbing of the hardfought gains of the then more but now still exploited.

But No Sir I Won't, they're punk, really, and they're gonna be punk cos they love punk, and a few skittering parts of that 80s shitstorm, the politics and the human struggle and, of course, bloody Crass, obviously motivate them and reach them in a similar way to the way they reach me. This is as much their sound as it is anyone's, no propriety, no masters. I'd certainly rather listen to No Sir, I Won't chopping and scratching at the problems over the world over their own twist on crassic rock than whatever the old dudes in Conflict have right now got to say about things. I saw Conflict in December and they were... not good. (Subhumans who also played that show, remain tight and scathing as ever) And there are definitely moments on The Door where it touches something vital and pure, something that gets me excited about the zigzagging possibilities that punk still possesses, just as they did with the infectious snap and bounce of the song More Politicians on their seven-inch, which got me enormously excited about this band in the first place. And and and, if our current Prime Minister is so conspicuously feeling the blood rush to his cock as he feverishly attempts to use Britain right now to build some twisted fanfiction of Thatcher's reign, why can't we have some of the same tools they had back then to try kick that vile shit to pieces?

The best political songs are ones that reach beyond the platitudes and get cut into something real and terrifying, taking an incisive eye for the special injustices of the world and bridging the gap between that and the wider fucked world. Harry Harlow pulls that trick of focusing on one tight issue and building on that, taking it as a microcosm of a bigger problem, here the inhumane animal experiments of the song's eponymous scientist's spin out from monkey's in cages to the societal conditioning of all of us, travelling from rifle burst drums to a steady rhythm allowing for it to be laid out "Follow the wire's back from the monkey's head to the robot arm it uses to please its captors, as the worker uses her sweat to please the manager but who is watching from the other side of the glass? God? Harry Harlow? Josef Mengele? If we can bridge the gap to nature, we can recreate reality in our own image." and so on. It's a mouthful. No Sir I Won't often follow the method of these cumbersome diatribes, sitting over the onwards momentum of the music, or countering its flourishes with the flatness, bleakness, of reality. You're not gonna be humming a line like "Progress is just one more empty notion thrust upon us by this society while we drift further and further from the essence of a compassionate life." from Elevators, but that's part of the point, the dissonance and apparent clumsiness forces engagement with the content. It's a mouthful that must be chewed over, seeping into you on a deeper level than an anthemic fantasy of rising up as one, good and fearless and glorybound.

Though Harry Harlow pulls off that zoom-out well, it's hard to do every song, with each track attempting to dig at another shit aspect of the world we live in, find some greater evil, or greater hope, within every issue each take, it faces a little burnout. Elevators focuses on the co-option of technology by those who oppress and kill. It's a semi-luddite number that stops just short of tinfoil hat discourses, a song I, perhaps blithely, summed up for my mate Tommy as "EVEN THOMAS EDISON KNEW THE LIGHTBULB WOULD BE USED FOR EVIL!" So yeah, it does itself a little in a bit of half-unhinged raving, homeless dude politics. Nothing wrong with a bit of manic pavement prophecy, just in something that seems as focused as this album on its righteous anger, the suggestion of the scattershot can undercut the message. And this is a band that's all about the message. That's always the place you're in with this sort of set-the-world-to-rights rage. The Door has extensive soundclips from Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky's classic satire Network, Peter Finch's Howard Beale lamenting the callousness of society on national TV. A movie that was claimed as a direct inspiration, with pointmissing gusto, by squeaking hatebawler Glenn Beck several years ago. By cataloguing the world's injustices, and railing at them, that's the line you walk. Between clearminded analyst and shunned ranter, and even if you're on the former side you risk being portrayed as the latter the closer your observation get to the bone. But still, closing on a line like, "But I never did like elevators, I'd rather take the stairs." seems pretty fucking goofy. And that's from someone who takes the stairs every day.

No More Poetry asks for new moods of expression, part lament, but just as much attack on those still employing old methods to resist, or to distract themselves, No More fucking Poetry, action with consequence, this is a grind. "Oh you're bored of politics? Well so the fuck am I, but just because you close your eyes won't make it go away". No Sir, I Won't's anger is a cold one as much as it is an boiling blast, but this coldness is not from lack of passion, but from clarity of drive, state the hate as much as your hate the state, lay it all out in a perfect picture, that's how you deal with it, how you can categorise and take on that which ails you. On Reprise, the music walks and wobbles with threat, as the singer intones promises for the revolution, so seriously and dryly delivered as to preclude any fists-in-the-air excitement from these visions. Just as stark as all the ills related, this is how it is, this is how it must be. It is sculpted so, fixed.

When You Gonna Realize? though, does have its concessions to the simpler, more unifying bonds of music. Beginning again with condensed shots at each fresh outrage, stop-start, more brutal efficiency, but then that fades into just piano and vocals, the melancholic's musical combination of choice. Here it cries more for the poetry lost, for its own hardfaced stance forced upon it by the harder facts of the world. "Our poetry corrupted by accountants selling 'truth'". The album doesn't want to be like this. It is as it is because of greater forces. And then it swells, then the guitar keens and scrapes, then you feel it, "NO SAVIOURS THIS TIME! WE MUST MAKE OUR OWN LOVE!" Love, not world, not future, not society, at the critical juncture, as the album almost collapses under the weight of the pent-up sorrow let out, it tilts at love, not at revolution, not at riots, not at reform. Now that may be some fucking hippie shit, but Crass were all fucking hippies anyway, and they scared the arse out of those evil fucks in parliament back then. Love, it screams as it punches back, re-energised, into another anarcho-cut crystal clatter, this time reverberating with those singalongs that the album has backed away from. "When you gonna realize what you're gotta do? When you gonna realize it ain't about you?" Now that's something you can shout, something you can scream as you jump about, anarchoi. "We never asked to be part of this. I don't want to be part of this. We never asked to be part of this. I refuse to be part of this." Get dug into that anxious bouncing, move with this sprightlysharp repetitive runout, maybe never reaching the pure danceparty ebullience of a Big A Little A or Bloody Revolutions, but giving you something to shimmy with, lean into. Then rip. Nothing. An abrupt stop. No fade out. It's been explained. We're done here. It's on you. Out the door. Go do something.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Buck Biloxi and the Fucks - Buck Biloxi and the Fucks

I'm pretty sure this features at least one member of the Spits. Not entirely sure as pseudonyms proliferate across the Leave Home-lifting artwork of this record, in different places crediting figures as elusive and sinister sounding as Rick "Def Threatz" Ultrahuman, Snacks "Snooker Snake" Fountain, Giorgio Murderer, Larry Poppins, Orson Scott Tard and of course the titular Buck Biloxi.

True or not, The Spits are a good comparison, as on stuff like Black and Blue or Tomorrow's Children The Spits approach their stripped down garage-punk with the cutting efficiency of rock and roll robots, android punk, drawing on a digitised database of 01110010011000010110110101101111011011100110010101110011 records and feeding out Supersuckers riffs processed and packaged, the machine buzz guitars supporting mechanised voices, dry with automaton distance. Buck Biloxi and the Fucks work over similar territory, but they do it with with the twitchy raw ineptitude and closeness of very human jerk-offs.

Songs built around simple sharp riffs, minimalist lyrics with repetitive choruses that dominate the songs "Shut the fuck up when you see me/shut the fuck up when you see me/shut the fuck up when you see me/shut the fuck up" goes Shut the Fuck Up, "Gonna hit you with a brick/Gonna hit you with a brick/Gonna hit you with a brick" goes Hit You With a Brick, "Night trap/Night trap/Night trap/Night trap/Night trap/Night trap" begins Night Trap/Night Court. Confrontational and rawboned, Buck Biloxi exists in a bad musical neighborhood of chickenwire guitars, rusty bloody, pinched vocals stuck behind them emitting blunt threats and desperate barks, the dangerously flimsy snap and crash of the drums maintaining the song's stubborn rock and roll momentum. Buck Biloxi's world is where I'm a Disaster jolts into I'm a Genius and both seem momentarily true. Bare and exposed, the watery guts open to the elements, a tenuous grasp on its own continuing existence, Buck Biloxi's careless junk-punk stumbles on, scratching ugly lines in the pavement, tossing off battered songs like Rats of Trantor and Who Gives a Fuck? Just another simplicity stomp for the half-cut denizens of this garage-punk dead-end, just another brittle punk sting that hits you with as much subtlety and grace as a half-brick in a sock. Get in, kill, get out. Mean cheap punk for mean cheap lives.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dishpit - 7"

Scrappy squeaky dirtpunk from Dishpit, a band made up of members of Empire Builder who put out an absolutely fantastic demo a couple of years ago and then quickly disintegrated. Six reckless punk songs, in the fashion of Twat Sauce, Driller Killers or the Los Canadians/Chickenhead split. All that regionrock punk rock that battles with itself, pulls at its own visible stitches, quickly self-destructing sloppy poppunx scratches with the texture of an old splintery wood floor and the rhythm of bikechains coming loose on hillbombs.

Remnants of similarly sloppy scrappy punx forebears abound. There's the nowheresville bummer of Hickey's The Only Lesbian in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the cramped geography of The Lazer or Cleveland Bound Death Sentence, parking lots and shortcuts between shit jobs and shit punkhouses, in the clatterpop of Stupid Parties. Throughout you have the close crash and jump of the first three Future Virgins seven inches. Maybe bits of real early Screeching Weasel, like Raining Needles or Can't Stand Myself, where it's just primitive speedsnot, words coming in a muddy frustrated rush, on Super America's breathless everything's-shite rattle.

There's Dishpit Anthem, a Pete Jordan bounce, dancing with yelps and whoa-ohs, Geno's, a song about how a sandwich place sucks that also manages to to be a song about cops suck ("for every shitty cheesesteak made there's someone still not loving police"), The Scrabble Song's sweet self-doubt and desire over coffee and board games, the mixed-up letters and mixed-up emotions, all this thrown together in the Borrible-heart amalgam of Forever Punk.

Forever Punk is, like last year's Hunx and his Punx album Street Punk, invested in reclaiming the punx pride/punx unity singalong shouts from the hands of oldfuck lumpen punk rock and roll, returning them to the grasping hands of young fuck-ups. "Still working fuckin beets/still hating the police/still just wandering around/fuckin' off in any town with the same old crowd". An affirmation of the path chosen, Op Ivy's Jaded with more venom, not beautiful because beauty's overrated and untouchable, but just here, still here, a misfit community in rickety working order, "SO UP THE PUNKS/OFF THE PIGS/AND I'LL COME VISIT YOU IF YOU COME VISIT ME".

These are the sort of throwaway songs that will endure longer than any art that's sturdy and built to last, cos these marginal nothings, these petty hates and spittle-glued loves are the real shit that swamps your days, not the widescreen wideshots of bigger picture politics, epic romance, but the dumb little punx uglies and their bent busted communions. I got this seven inch with a homemade button made from a ringpull, a bottlecap and a safety pin and Dishpit are the sound of tiny discarded objects pulled together. They are ephemeral and concerned with little things, the personal lives of people who know too many oogles but aren't really one themselves, who can't quite explain to their mum exactly why they hate cops so much, who laugh hard at their own bad decisions as soon as they've stopped punching a wall over them, who get a tad faded on fumes throwing up a wonky Gauze tag under the bridge, and get chased out of abandoned buildings. Who stay forever punk, in these songs, and in mushy mispelt zines, broken tapes, in stained and sleeveless homemade Die Kreuzen shirts strewn about on dirty floors. Not rebel souls, nothing so romantic or pure, just the brief grotty freedom of small punx lives drawn in sticky, pokey punk rock. To get stuck in your head and to poke at your ramshackle hopes. To get under the skin and live in your itchings.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Gateway District - Old Wild Hearts

It's been almost three years since I started this blog, since I stole the title from first the Gateway District album and switched it up in the manner of Sam Elliot's character in The Big Lebowski summing up the essential uneven nature of life. I've written a bunch here. Some of it I'm kinda proud of, some of it I could give a fuck about. But it's good to write, I enjoy it, putting on word in front of the other, it's tougher sometimes to make it work, I've gone long stretches without writing, through procrastination or pain or Person of Interest marathons. It's tougher sometimes, to avoid slipping into overworked patterns or to dodge logorrheic obfuscation, but it provides ultimately a way to get a handle on the world, this tiny corner of the world, punk rock, that makes the most sense to me in its wild heart wailing, its youngpunx squealing, and that's the world that the new Gateway District album, Old Wild Hearts, on It's Alive Records, knows well.

Like Perfect's Gonna Fail, it avoids the country sections of Falling Down and Leaving Town or Highway Song on Some Days You Get the Thunder and sticks to this pop-punk chug, but it's got that twang deep down there, it runs with country obsessions, the call of hearts, if not broken, then at least slipped out of alignment, it's got country in it, the body evaporated but the spirit remains.

More than their other albums it's tempered by a certain restraint, for the most part avoiding the reckless tumble of something like Lake Street is for Suckers or Odd Powers. It's still punk, still filled with feeling with but weighed down with familiarity with the consequences, the emotions plays itself out in regrets and reconciliations, pain reworked and scars faded so that you just scratch them out of habit, rather than the rough and ripping roar of fresh emotions in flight. The title track lays it out "Our hearts are drugged and down heaving with the stress of fear silence cancels sound and I’m not sure how we wound up here we try to forget what we’ve got".

Murakami Novels is rueful but moves onwards, it's heartache worn lightly, Go Home is warm advice, rooted in personal experience and struggle, shaking its head as it recognises its former self, Tell You Why lays down its rules with confidence, clear markers for the relationship born of past missteps. The album reverberates with larger stories, rooted in, inferred from the minutiae, like Cline counting cigarettes in an ashtray, "the early morning highway trucks" of Murakami Novels, the "model homes, designer clothes and gender roles" of The Cut.

The wild hearts have grown old, they creak more with movement, but they still can burst joyously, transcending the limits of lives in order to reach for bigger things, as in the chorus of Tell You Why, or in The Cut, a tale of suburban dulling, where the rock bottom is reached and then turned into a defiant last stand: "They can't break you when you're broken". The Gateway District's primary strength remains in the incredible dual vocals, soulful and forceful, capable of these sparks, but also capable of a dry dissection of the situation, of embracing or bracing you. An album heavy with knowledge, "you got some tattered dreams I know" on Don't Mean Anything, "I recall the way things were some things I’ll always know for sure" on Speed Past, "I know it don’t matter you said you’d never stay  and I knew you weren’t lying" on You Always Let Me Down. It's cognizant of human frailty, of patterns of crossed lines and promises snapped, but still chooses to invest in the feeling, knowing too that there is little else but this. Those wild moments, when it sings and soars, are worked for, earned from uneasy living and the sort of lessons that burn. But it is not beaten down by those lessons learnt hard, it retains the twang and twinges, in the smudges and particulars, the worn books and drunken nights, "the cheapest vodka stings and all the clumsy warmth it brings" of Don't Mean Anything.

A word I hate, a word I always try to avoid when discussing punk is the word 'mature', cos usually it's a get-out clause for an unthinking slip into acoustic tedium and smoothing overs, to forget and become what you hate, but here there is something that might be described as a sort of maturity, or at least a building, a construction, putting together the bad sharp parts and trying to move up on over them, to feel just as strongly, but stand strong against the wind, to not let it sweep through you, to struggle more with failure than anger, with drifting apart not crashing and burning. To forgive maybe, especially yourself. To fucking deal with some shit. Some days you still get the thunder, but the days that you don't have the same number of hours. But you walk on.