Everyone’s doing it, and in the spirit of Robert Plant telling everyone to listen to new music, here’s the best things I’ve listened to this year, that were released this year, and while some of these selections are cheating; fuck it. There’s no order (despite the numbering, I just did that so I knew how many in the end I thought were worth writing about).
Now, there may be a few people out there who are asking what do you, Jon, define as punk? It’s a loose coalition of sound (based in primitive rock n roll, but could extend to electronic instruments ala Suicide) and ethic. The ethic for me is more important, and lets face it, harder to define, but I’ll give it a whack anyways.
The punk ethic is stridently non-mainstream for the time they were released. There’s also an element of doing it for themselves, or DIY. That doesn’t mean that a punk band can’t be on a major label — I don’t think anyone will question the punkness of Bad Brains, Husker Du or the Sex Pistols, but they will have to have been out and about playing before “selling out” to a major label. Self released country album? Might be punk, if it’s hard enough. Punk band plays electronic music? Probably punk (for reference, Bad Religion’s Into the Unknown). It’s almost as if you know it when you see it. If you don’t like my opinions, that’s fine, you’ve got one of your own. Use the Internet for good, and write something with your name on it.
One more note, “Greatest Hits” compilations with unreleased music are an abomination and should never happen. Sorry, Teenage Head, I love you, but the double LP of stuff shouldn’t have happened, even if it gives you some cash in your pocket.
- Husker Du — Extra Circus CD
This is cheating, because these songs existed before on bootlegs. Numero Group as part of their comprehensive early Husker Du retrospective “Savage Young Du” released Extra Circus as well, outtakes from the Metal Circus sessions — some of which make you wonder why these were left off? These songs have circulated on bootlegs since the late 90’s, first on tape trading lists, then on Soulseek. Of course, those versions were always less than pristine, and Extra Circus takes them to a better sounding place. While Savage Young Du is a tough slog in many places — properly documenting brilliant musicians as they were finding their way, Extra Circus is more of a distillation of Husker Du at their peak songwriting circa 1982.
So yeah, it’s cheating, but Extra Circus is what fans have wanted from a lot of the SST catalog — a proper remix so that the songs don’t sound like mud. Can you imagine how much better Metal Circus would be with some extra clarity?
2. Condition — Subjugated Fate 7″ EP
Pummeling, desperate d-beat influenced hardcore that’s a cut above the run of the mill bands that play in this genre. I thought their previous LP, Actual Hell was amazing as well. I hope this band can start to play outside of the West Coast so that we can get lambasted by the tunes.
So yeah, one of my favourites this year. Seek it out and play it loud. Wish bands would just let vocals be, without the echo/delay/reverb, but it’s not over the top obnoxious here. This 7″ EP is a freight train rumbling through your stereo, then the silence of the end of the side hits like a bomb. Flipping it over, you get more.
3. Limp Wrist- Facades LP
Martin Sorrondeguy and crew return to bring a cultural mashup of epic proportions. The thing that I love most about Limpwrist’s latest is that it takes on a quality of the complexity of humans; as if the band is trying to show they’re multifaceted humans in a genre, punk, that often punishes that sort of behaviour.
The interesting thing about Facades, is that it’s mining the same hardcore territory that previous Limp Wrist releases have — fast hardcore, rooted in early 80’s styles spanning several continents (I personally hear a less trebly Olho Seco or Impact’s Solo Odio LP) but there’s a whole history of hardcore punk on the first side of the LP.
Flip it over, and you’ve got three songs of electronic music. I’m not a dance music expert at all, but I’ve been told it’s techno or EBM. I’m not sold on that, as there’s clear mid/late-80’s industrial overtones from these songs; Front 242 really sticks out as a comparable on first listen, Tyranny For You would be a good starting place if you’re liking what you hear from Limp Wrist here, but Front Line Assembly’s early 90’s work might work as well. Meat Beat Manifesto too. Out of the three, I think “Dead Artist” is the most successful, but none of them are terrible. More kick drum on the last three please.
4. No Faith — Forced Subservience LP
So, I’m a sucker for fast hardcore punk that works in elements of other genres subtly, but tastefully. Admittedly, tastefully isn’t a word I use that often in conjunction with hardcore, but this LP adds a layer of noise influenced elements (on some tracks, sine/square wave generators droning on adding to the noise floor, others have noise interludes with distorted metal elements beaten into submission and run through endless delays) to the harsh guitars and pounding, jackhammer-esque drums. The noise elements are definitely drawing influence from the great work that Barnes did in Man Is The Bastard.
Shockingly, the best phrase that I can use to describe this LP is tasteful powerviolence. Maybe drawing a bit more from sludge/doom metal style (the shuffle drum beat in “No Police (Rest In Peace Mike Brown)” drove this idea home for me) than a straight powerviolence band. Excellent stuff.
5. Katastrof 7″ EP
Featuring members of Sweden’s best hardcore band of recent memory, Totalitar, Katastrof come back and provide a lesson in how to play modern hardcore. Certainly not to be confused with the neo-nazi turd band with the same name, these punks play good music and have their intentions in the right place.
Thundering songs that propel you to nod your head, or bang it depending on your local proclivity; sung by a guy who sounds like he’s straining against some imaginary constraints, with an absolute ripper of guitar solos laid on top of the juggernaut.
6. Career Suicide — Machine Response LP
So Career Suicide come back from the void to rekindle their love of early 80’s Circle Jerks, Jerry’s Kids and Gang Green. Lets face it, hardcore punk has always been about amphetamine (or caffeine) fuelled brazen overload. Play as fast as you can, and then play faster. While Career Suicide haven’t been at it for speed’s sake, there’s an economy of song here. Things are complex, but simply catchy.
While the past effort, Cherry Beach, was a bit of a shall we say softer approach (especially on the slightly slickened In The Red version of the song), there’s no smoothed out edges and certainly no barb left unsaid in these songs. If you think that older bands slow down, mellow out and sleepwalk through, you will be disappointed with this release that sounds as imperative and frenetic as Attempted Suicide.
7. Columns — In Loving Hues CS
Creepy crawl through Wire’s catalog and bring it forward to the modern day. Part-Pissed Jeans, part-Jesus Lizard, I think what I really like about this band is the interplay between the brash guitar lines and the bouncy, driving bass. I’ll try not to reference angular, or discordant, but both those describe the guitars well. And there’s a general unease from this tape.
I found this somehow browsing around the Internet and it stays in rotation for a week or two, goes away, but fits the bill perfectly for when I want something that’s not out and out hardcore, but isn’t an easy listen. There’s a surprise turn of phrase, a slightly discordant moment, a drum skip that shocks, all of which seem organic but fully planned. Looking forward to what this band comes up with going forward.
8. Una Bèstia Incontrolable-Metamorfosi LP
Dirgy, dirty punk. Feedback drenched. Almost gothic. Some people call this Deathrock, but the endless subgenre titling is old, and frankly, doesn’t add that much as a descriptor of a band’s sound. Take the best elements of some of the new bands like Arctic Flowers and add in some of the best of Amphetamine Reptile bands noisy riffs, but have a real UK82 effort underneath. Maybe a good comparable might be the Mau Maus who started to dabble in “deathrock” or goth.
This release is rhythmic, endlessly working a riff, pounding it mercilessly in your head. All the while a guitar is scribbling noisy feedback or chorus drenched riffs on top of the driving bass lines propelling each song forward, almost as if driven by kinetic motion. While the singing is encased in delay/reverb, which is my least favourite feature of modern punk, this is done well enough that it doesn’t obscure what is being sung/spoken in Spanish.
9. Systematic Death-Systema Ten one sided 12″ EP
Systematic Death were the among the first Japanese hardcore band I heard on the great “Thrash Til Death” compilation. Systema Ten harkens back to the younger Systematic Death but adds a new vibrancy and maturity to these songs. You can tell that these songs are written by people who have written a few songs in their career.
The simple truth is that Systematic Death have been playing the same sort of stuff for quite a while. I’m into it by default, but the the last two records have been good but not amazing. This one is a return to form.
10. Sterile Mind-2017 Tour CS
OK this is really fucking cheating. Three songs on here appeared on Sterile Mind’s Lift the Mask LP (which was released in 2016), with one other new, untitled song. All four are new recordings, but I couldn’t really tell the difference on the three that also appeared on the LP. Either way it gets me able to spread the word about this band who, without exaggeration, I think are the best US hardcore band going right now.
Grinding songs that are bleak, but have hope. Really reminiscent of Talk Is Poison, who were another great unheralded band that never really got their due while they existed. I hope Sterile Mind keep plugging away at it, and more folks get to know them. Each song on this has it’s own flavour — but within the band’s unifying theme. Blown out guitars, rumbling bass, driving drumbeats and vocals that sound slightly in-the-red on recording (perhaps after the fact enhancements by throwing some overdrive on the vocals, which is not my favourite feature of hardcore punk in 2017, but I’m old). Nevertheless, it all coalesces together in a battering four songs that serve as a teaser to more to come.
Buy it at: http://www.sterilemind.bigcartel.com/
Listen to other tracks here: https://sterilemind.bandcamp.com
11. Exit Unit 7″ EP
Uhhh, this is fucking Infest. If you like Infest, this is it. People complain about the b-side instrumental stuff. I get that, but I think that the songwriting here can hold up on it’s own enough that it’s solid.
Short review for a short record? Yes.
12. Long Knife — Sewers of Babylon 7″ EP
Well, this was unexpected. I saw Long Knife a couple years ago, and wasn’t super hyped on the idea of Poison Idea clone band — but now that Poison Idea is dead and gone; this is the release that I didn’t know I wanted. The fact that this release is grabbing ideas from “Feel The Darkness” era Poison Idea, but more importantly making them their own, and is a critical step forward for a band that might’ve at times been a cover band. I’ve done them a bit of a disservice as I’m sure the band want to shake the inevitable comparison to Poison Idea. But of the bunch of songs here, only “Citadel” made me go have a think about whether Poison Idea wrote that song.
So what, you might ask. So why should you check this out, if, like me, you wrote Long Knife off as a Poison Idea clone? Well, this actually made me rethink the previous releases by Long Knife, looking at them again for the identity they’re showing us on Sewers of Babylon. And in hindsight, I can see it now, so if you were on the fence thinking that you’d just rather listen to the original, feel good about Long Knife’s latest, they are definitely their own band.