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.

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