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.

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