Reviews

Dan Goetz

Code of Honor / Sick Pleasure Fight Or Die / Dolls Under Control LP reissue

After being out of print for 30 years, one of the best—if not the best—records to come out of the early ’80s Northern California hardcore milieu has finally been reissued. I imagine many readers may also know these songs by heart, but for anyone needing a quick summary: SICK PLEASURE was the earlier band of the two, with a fun, dumb antisocial vibe, and whose singer Niki Siki later joined VERBAL ABUSE and took some of his lyrics here with him. CODE OF HONOR came shortly after, had the same backing band but with vocalist Johnithin Christ, were more accomplished musically, and whose personally and politically earnest sentiment served as a contrast to Siki’s irreverence. While SICK PLEASURE was singing “Destroy / Destroy / Destroy the human race” and writing songs about killing the Muni driver, CODE OF HONOR was saying (literally saying, in this example) “Kill all the politicians and no one else will die,” and urging listeners to question who and what they were living for. Radiation Records deserves a good deal of credit for putting together what is mostly a faithful reproduction, so that band-approved inspiration and/or stupid fun can be had to these songs on the proper analog medium for $20 instead of $100. However, there is a slight but very noticeable difference in the font used for the band names on each band’s side of the split. I imagine this was done for logistical reasons, but it’s still a bit disappointing. All of that said, it’s great to have these songs back on vinyl, and not a moment too soon.

Testbunker Verdomde Idioot CD-R

The first song had me thinking they were gonna go in a not-quite-D-beat direction—their sonic aesthetic immediately made me think of TOTALITÄR’s side of the DISMACHINE split specifically, albeit with a less metallic and a little more jangly guitar sound. They certainly would’ve done this style well given the guitar sound, vocalist’s pipes, and the drummer’s chops. But instead, Hamburg’s TESTBUNKER goes for a more straightforward but very timeless and salt-of-the-earth melodic punk sound that’s defiant, melancholic, and celebratory in different combinations, and sometimes all at once. Loose gang vocals abound, and the guitar might be slightly out of tune, but the latter only adds to this band’s charm. I imagine these songs are best experienced live in the kind of place that could get busted at any moment.

Goon Natural Evil LP

GOON is one of a number of noteworthy hardcore bands coming out of Denver as of late. For the first few songs, the primary sound is, but not limited to, the intersection between a stompy yet heavy contemporary hardcore sound—I’m not going to use internet-conceived genre descriptors, but, um, S.H.I.T. might be one reference point—and more abrasive and outright mosh-ready hardcore. Things get a little more free-form from the relatively more sparse and jangly “Spit” through the eight-minute(!) closer, but all the pieces of the puzzle: the flow of the songs, the frequent change-ups, the pedalboard noise accompaniments, and the art-damaged visual aesthetic all form a cohesive package.

Locked Inside Your Thoughts. Your Own. EP

Haircut youth crew that, while energetic, tight, and probably great live under exactly the right circumstances, has absolutely nothing to offer on record. The songwriting isn’t quite as cliché and predictable as the embarrassing lyrics and artwork might have one think, but the songs aren’t memorable either. And I know I’m writing this about a straightedge band, but if you are a middle-aged adult in the year 2020 with a Christian-teenager-level understanding of addiction and substance (ab)use, as demonstrated in the title track’s cartoon sloganeering, you desperately need to expand your worldview.

Reek Minds End of the Trail EP

Fed-up-with-everything hardcore that is in a near-constant state of shapeshifting, yet never loses its momentum or fury for even a second. They can do both stream-of-consciousness songs that are memorable and make sense, along with ones with more discernible structures that are equally memorable and well-written, and are both tuneful and raging as fuck at any speed. The vocals are a nice burly snarl, with a nice raw sound to match. Please, please, please play the Bay Area.

Puppy and the Handjobs I Hate Everything EP

Imagine if Beavis and Butt-Head had eventually, um, Grown Up Fucked Up, somehow learned to read via overtly sexist garage rock zines, and got into the GERMS and the JABBERS more than GWAR, and you’re enough of the way there. Gross declarations of sexual frustration and an accompanying music video for the song “Cocksucker” on Pornhub (I’m not kidding) turn to creepy stalking and kidnapping fantasies with the song “Predator.” The decent garage scuzz underneath you can find elsewhere without all this nonsense.

Foster Care El Abuso LP

Speedy hardcore with a no-hope vibe, and a vocalist whose thick NY accent that reminds me of the MOB (NY) of all things. It’s mostly straightforward, but they throw in some experimental aspects from time to time, along with a noise interlude. The second side is considerably better than the first, so you might want to even listen to that one first.

Electric Chair Performative Justice EP

Any worries I had that this EP wasn’t going to match this band’s sprawled-on-the-floor live set were eradicated by the end of the first song. On these five tracks, ELECTRIC CHAIR fuse together the freewheeling yet tough and melodic side of early ’80s Mid/western US hardcore with stripped-down and more abrasive early ’80s European hardcore (D-beat and otherwise), all filtered through the drugged vibes of the BETA BOYS, with whom they share members. Vocals like a drill sergeant who got dosed and enjoyed it. Can’t wait for what’s next.

Chain Whip 14 Lashes LP

Last year’s factory town hardcore-styled debut EP was a solid starting point, but CHAIN WHIP have outdone themselves on their first LP. You can still hear the sense of, dare I say, pedestrian soulfulness (by hardcore standards, of course) that reminds me of the FIX, the DICKS, and the LEFT via the present, but this time around, the melodic, sing-along-ready songs are matched by faster speeds and more commandeering, rapid-fire vocals. The overall feel is one of being beaten down but undefeated, and finding jubilation in envisioning just how you’re gonna overthrow your overlords. I would imagine this band is best experienced by happening on them live on a rainy Tuesday after a not-terrible-but-not-great day at your dead-end job, and proceeding to spend their entire set up front, jumping up and down against the stage with a massive grin on your face. While these fourteen lashes listen more like a collection of songs than a cohesive album, the songs are more than varied enough to make each of them leave its own mark. Highly recommended.

Odd Man Out Odd Man Out LP

While “NWHC” as a descriptor has always been more of a collection of largely metallic capitol-H hardcore bands from western Washington than a cohesive genre unto itself, I feel like there’s a musical thread between a number of bands to have come out of this sterile, dreary corner of the US, of which ODD MAN OUT is both a continuing part of and expansion on. BROTHERHOOD is a clear main influence, primarily in terms of vocal delivery, competent changeups that less capable bands might handle like a herky-jerky musical collision, along with guidance on how to expand on both standard youth crew and burlier NYHC templates, and ODD MAN OUT heeds these lessons well, while also applying the hindsight and musical raw material of thirty extra years from which to draw. Plenty of dancefloor-ready mosh abounds—and even the drawn out-seeming breakdowns go somewhere in the end, or you can tell that they’re riding on a riff because it’s fucking good—but there’s also a good deal of lightning-fast blasting that brings everything together well. This LP compiles their 7”, CCHC tape, three covers (the DC YOUTH BRIGADE and Tacoma’s SIDETRACKED), and four new songs, and it’s cool to hear the evolution from the earliest songs to the newest ones. And while we’re on the subject of BROTHERHOOD, RIP Ron Guardipee.

Hellbent Dead Off the Floor EP

Playing more polished, professional-sounding hardcore and having music videos and shit can be tricky business, as it makes me just want to dismiss a band as wanting to open for TERROR and/or MUNICIPAL WASTE or get a writeup in No Echo or wherever—is “blogcore” a genre (or aspiration) descriptor at this point? That said, I like HELLBENT. They play hardcore that is indeed polished, and half of these songs indeed have music videos, but they’re ultimately saved and then some by an abrasion in the guitar sound, higher-pitched vocals that are adequately heavy, and interesting songs that aren’t monotonous—fueled in large part by the less-conventional drumwork—and admittedly funny lyrics about shit like king penguins. I believe this four-song EP contains all previously-released songs.

Protein Alive EP

Middle-of-the-road youth crew from Poland that would be equally at home on the React! roster. Vocals are a couple steps above spoken, and the fast parts trade in a bit of speed for power without upsetting the overall ratio. Riffs are adequate if not mindblowing, while melodic leads offer sentimental moments. The pleasantly rough-around-the-edges recording helps to balance the proverbial equation.

Loose Nukes Behind the Screen EP

Yesss. Fast, raw, snotty hardcore that isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is. I almost never play the ex-members game because it’s largely lazy rockstar bullshit and rarely relevant to the tunes, but people from DIRECT CONTROL, BLOOD PRESSURE, and DARK THOUGHTS are at the helm here, and despite the relatively straightforward sound, you can hear it. Songs about phones, paranoia, punishers, and of course, nukes. Please tour the West Coast.

Betercore Completely Out Of Control: Discography 1998-2003 LP

BETERCORE was a severely underrated Dutch band that carried the self-proclaimed “youthcrust” banner during their turn-of-the-millennium existence. I quite literally discovered this band by doing an internet search for “youth crew crust” in 2003, and immediately knew that I had stumbled on something special. BETERCORE’s sound is characterized by blastbeats interspersed with mosh breakdowns, frequent between-song samples, and melodic leads, with two vocalists that trade off, and is sonically on the slightly cleaner side of abrasive (I think they’re more “crust” aesthetically and politically, and more “youth” in terms of the breakdowns, songwriting, instrument tones, and energy brought forth). Their impassioned lyrics—which can be felt in the vocal delivery—take on society’s bullshit, as well as that of the sometimes sterile and detached-from-real-life hardcore scenes that were going when they started up, with humor and seriousness whenever the respective one fit (sample song titles include “SXE, But Not An Asshole,” “Gospelcore,” “Man You Suck,” and “Mosh Against Monarchy”). Their main output is four split 7”s and a split tour CD-R, which is compiled here in reverse chronological order, along with a history, loads of pictures and flyers, and even a quiz! Although I still regularly see their records in distros, it’s nice to have everything in one place, and I’m glad that a band this necessary yet lesser-known has seen their discography pressed to vinyl and contextualized with care. They called themselves “better ’core” for a reason, and they delivered. Let us not forget.

Line Of Sight Line of Sight LP

This DC youth crew band’s Dissent EP, originally on Youngblood, graces the A-side, while their demo is on the flipside. This is the more “searching for something” school of post-millennial youth crew, with the energy and shouted vocals (and a little singing on the demo) to match. Everything is tight, well-written, and well-played, there’s definite evolution from the demo songs to the EP ones, and they achieve a good balance between drawing from a few different corners of the overall youth crew canon and falling back on tried-and-true genre staples when it works. There’s a lot of cartoon bullshit in this genre, but these songs come off as sincere and relatively refreshing. I’d mosh.

PERRA VIDA Célebres Plumíferos EP

This Peruvian band plays excellent straightforward hardcore punk that most often keeps a 1-2-1-2 pace, with semi-frequent breakdowns and some slower moments, and you get a sense from the vocals that she is putting forth these words because she has no other choice. The drums are varied enough between, and over the course of, each of these five songs, that they all sound distinct, and make their individual marks on this record. The nice bouncy bass tone rounds out their sound well, too. Very excited to see what’s next.

Night Slaves III LP

Ten somber, atmospheric epics that rarely clock in at less than four minutes, yet hold my attention the whole way through. A common-enough denominator—though nowhere near the whole picture—might be some of DEPECHE MODE’s slowest points, with even more sparse percussion for the most part. A few songs are driven by melancholy organ, with a choir of soulful backups to match, while others by (electric) piano or fuzzy synth. The vocalist has a distinct baritone, and the main instrumentalist, David Kane, started making electronic music in the late ’70s, but except for the aforementioned synth, most of the electronics here are part of the ambiance rather than in the foreground. That these intricate and moving songs were created mostly by two people is an even greater accomplishment.

The Empty Bottles No Sense for the Cause CD

The punk duck from that old Bubble Yum commercial is all grown up (with a red mohawk this time), sporting an Antifa neck tattoo on the cover of this CD (I can get down with that), and presumably drinking with the boys at the pub or whatever (ehh…). The music is barely-tolerable bar punk, where one moment is indistinguishable from the next (except for the gang vocals, which make me prefer their default state of monotony), and their song “Overpopulation” regurgitates that stupid liberal eugenics myth. At least there’s a funny song about Lars (not that one, the other one) selling out because he shaved his head.

Clarko I Just Wanna Pay / Medeocre Man 7"

One can almost picture CLARKO hard at work in his basement as they hear these two stripped-down, sarcastic and angsty yet bouncy solo new wave ditties. “I Just Wanna Pay” is driven by punchy synth bursts and light square wave hits, while “Medeocre Man” is more guitar-driven and a bit more brooding, as our protagonist lashes out at his subject with lines like “Your life is stupid / And I am poor!” This is one of five records in Iron Lung Records’ new Systemic Surgery series, and is now sold out.