Reviews

Shivaun Watchorn

Xylitol I’m Pretty Sure I Would Know If Reality Were Fundamentally Different Than I Perceived It To Be EP

We live in hell. Sweatpants, aggressively marketed to us on data-mining apps as we remain confined to our homes-cum-workplaces (if we’re lucky enough to not be risking COVID serving the WFH class), cost $100 for some reason. Nazi cops use the same apps to suppress resistance and target the already marginalized. I don’t know anyone at this point who’s enjoying life. I hate it, you hate it, XYLITOL from Olympia really hates it. For XYLITOL, sourdough baking and furiously donating to GoFundMes is not enough—they wrote six pogo anthems asserting their humanity and agency when it feels like no one has any. “Dim the Sun” flips the script on ATROCIOUS MADNESS’ HAARP obsession, a Dr. Evil climate change reversal fantasy that trounces any corporate carbon offsetting. “I Want a Refund” is the clear hit, a laundry list of daily indignities large and small with nary a receipt with which to return them. “(There’s Something in Your) Void” slaughters the Scandi-minimalist vapidity of contemporary design; “I Have Free Will” is a last-gasp plea for sentience against the invisible hand of the market; “Don’t Let Them Leave” would rather parade Elon Musk’s head on a pole through the commons than let him escape to Mars with wee X Æ A-12. “Crazy Frog” closes out the EP—I think it’s a love song, but honestly who knows? It’s like PRINCE on DMT. XYLITOL only has one beat, but this record is short, and I’m glad the lyrics are shrieked along to frantic pogo rather than subsumed by the infographic-industrial complex.

Firewalker Alive EP reissue

Refuse Records brings us a new vinyl reissue of FIREWALKER’s 2018 cassette-only promo, originally on lame-o mersh hardcore label Pop Wig. The new cover art by Emma Hendry is a vast improvement on the original art and re-situates this release within the larger FIREWALKER visual world of smirking impish devils. It’s crazy that FIREWALKER has been around for five years now. They have been a truly game-changing band, inspiring cool girls and enraging small-minded sexists with overtly feminist lyrics set to the previously male-only province of NYHC-inspired music. “Role Model” is an antipodean take on ALONE IN A CROWD’s “Who You Know” (which AIAC puzzlingly played at a 2019 reunion show—yikes, go ahead and prove FIREWALKER’s point), while “Out of Time” bemoans the punishment that accompanies the slow march of progress in hardcore. “Cyanide” features singer Sophie and guest singer Sen Iñiguez of the short-lived Olympia band MALA RACHA trading off over a lurching, heavy riff. I’m glad this got the vinyl treatment—it’s a worthy follow-up to their excellent 2017 LP, and it’s quite a bit better than 2019’s The Roll Call. Still an unimpeachably cool band to me.

Gunn Peace Love & Heavy Weaponry EP

Man, this is just the best shit. Record of the year. GUNN from Orange County plays gruff, no-frills American hardcore, with vocals not unlike HUMAN SUFFERAGE and GAS RAG. Side A packs three songs into three minutes, and “Slacker” distills an innate universal truth into its brief chorus: “I’m so sick of this shit / I just can’t wait to quit / All this shit is a waste of time / I just want to see you die.” On the B-side, GUNN slows down to a NO TREND or later BLACK FLAG swing for “Not Original,” then speeds up a bit for “Killing Time.” I was born and raised in Southern California’s endless suburbia, and there is no more appropriate soundtrack for the oppressive, brain-deadening sunshine than this song. An instant classic. Kings of suburbia. Long may they run.

Kalashnikov Læderhalse EP reissue

Adult Crash out of Denmark has finally reissued KALASHNIKOV’s classic 1984 EP. It’s rare to find a bona fide classic that hasn’t been reissued or booted at this point, especially one this good, and the original has been climbing in price for a while now, so I’m beyond excited to have this. Originally known as DIARRÉ (you can guess as to that word’s meaning in Danish), they had three excellent songs on the Lorteland tape compilation (“I Hate the New Romantics” is my personal favorite) before recording this EP in 1984 and an LP in 1985. The obvious hit here is the hard-charging “Schlüters Kabinet,” which also appeared on the P.E.A.C.E. compilation, but the other two tracks are great, albeit at a post-punk pace. An essential record now available for a reasonable price.

Peace Talks A Lasting Peace EP

PEACE TALKS’ debut EP is full-on breakneck hardcore from start to finish, with a vocal delivery nearly as urgent as CONFLICT. PEACE TALKS doesn’t sound like any particular band, scene, or era, though I hear a healthy dose of TOTALITÄR in their sound. “Dancing for the Flame” is by far the standout track, though no tracks are bad, and this is the first punk record I can recall seeing that combines “Fuck 12” sloganeering with more tried-and-true nuclear bomb art. I mean, it’s all part of the same problem, right?

Street Weapon Quick to Die EP

Though the label copy namechecks CONFRONT and ALTERCATION, STREET WEAPON reminds me more of the heavier end of the mid-’00s USHC revival, when a band could still cite BLACK FLAG as an influence without sounding naive or hackneyed. That’s not to say they sound like BLACK FLAG—they sound distinctly modern but with a strong classic NYHC influence—but the simplicity of the presentation hearkens back to an earlier era, where everyone wore flannel and jean jackets and put every weapon they could possibly think of on their record art. These guys are quite young, and I’m not totally sold on this record, but when quarantine is over in 2029, some kid in Virginia Beach in construction gloves will probably get a black eye in a STREET WEAPON pit, which certainly counts for something.

Régimen de Terror Inherente del Poder EP

The first few DISCHARGE EPs seem to be the entire corpus of influences for RÉGIMEN DE TERROR. This could be dangerous—D-beat done poorly is almost always stale and limiting—but RÉGIMEN DE TERROR combines a sincere, explicitly anarchist approach and barebones production into a solid, enjoyable record. There’s nothing groundbreaking lyrically or musically here, but if you’re a sucker for OTAN or REALIDAD like I am, you’ll likely find this record charming and invigorating.

P22 Human Snake 12″

P22, a Los Angeles mountain lion who traversed two busy freeways to stalk the hills of Griffith Park, is an apt namesake for this band, whose debut 12” begins with Jackie Beckey’s viola climbing to a nauseating crescendo, which one can only imagine parallels the feeling of running across the 101. P22 borrows heavily from the artier side of peace punk—they previously released a tape with a CHUMBAWAMBA cover—but their lyrics, while poetic, elide droll sloganeering or didacticism. While they occasionally play at a more straightforward punk pace, the music is often sparse, driven by propulsive, inventive drumming. Imagine if the ROSA YEMEN 12” was sent in as a demo for a Bullshit Detector comp or if SACCHARINE TRUST got the EX to do their artwork. A fully-formed achievement, honestly maybe a masterpiece? 

Payday Second to None LP

PAYDAY from London is named after the CONFRONT 7”, and nothing about them is really surprising, but it doesn’t need to be. An expertly executed mix of CONFRONT, RINGWORM, and INTEGRITY, they’ve got divebombs galore, vocals alternately growly and guttural, and plenty of riffs. “Dead on Your Feet” is my favorite track, but they’re all good, and though I wish this record was a track or two shorter, it’s a great slice of Cleveland hardcore worship sure to get all the lads moshing.

The Pornography Glows Pornoglows 12″ EP

Man this record is so fucking good. You know how those Life Is… comps on New Underground look really cool based on the art but then have like CHINA WHITE and they kinda suck? This sounds like what those records should sound like. Seven songs of timeless punk like early REDD KROSS or the URINALS, expertly executed but fun and loose. My favorite record of 2019! Get it, it’s so good!

Jim Shepard Heavy Action 3xLP

JIM SHEPARD, who committed suicide in 1998, produced an enormous body of work, much of it excellent and challenging, in his 44 years on earth. The musician and poet from Columbus, Ohio, was best known for his bands EGO SUMMIT, V-3, and VERTICAL SLIT, but he recorded and released music prolifically under his own name, though all of it is currently out of print. Heavy Action covers a wide swath of his career, encompassing live and unreleased material, scraps of spoken words, voicemails, tributes from the likes of DENNIS CALLACI, ROBERT POLLARD, DON HOWLAND, and NUDGE SQUIDFISH, and covers of BOB DYLAN, the GUN CLUB, and LEONARD COHEN. Shepard’s oeuvre is shot through with a red-hot fury—both lyrically and sonically—and this collection is heavy on the darkness with songs like “Loaded Gun” and “Star Power.” Listening to three LPs of his music at once was emotionally overwhelming, and I don’t think this is a great starting point for someone unfamiliar with his work (that would be V-3’s 1992 CD-only album Negotiate Nothing), but considering the scarcity of his numerous tapes and CDs and records, this is a place to start. Nicely packaged with liner notes by Tom Lax of Siltbreeze.

Insecurity Willpower EP

INSECURITY from France plays totally fine and serviceable aggressive youth crew, nothing to write home about but not terrible. They’re named after one of the best TURNING POINT songs and the influence is evident, but if you have even a passing interest in youth crew, you already have a record that sounds exactly like this. If someone is holding a gun to your head and demanding that you buy a Refuse Records release, I’d definitely recommend this over most. Wouldn’t that be a weird situation in which to find yourself?

Vicious Reality The Bonding Moment EP

Incredibly boring and generic mid-paced straight edge hardcore from Częstochowa, Poland. It’s putting me to sleep as I type this. This band makes INSTED sound like INFEST. Youth crew muzak. Bad bad bad. Noteworthy: former MRR contributor Rebecca Solnit (who penned issue 31’s cover story “War Against Women” in 1986) is quoted on the insert.

Asid Pathetic Flesh LP

Pathetic Flesh is ASID’s first vinyl outing after a handful of tapes. From the UK, they play the kind of brutalizing, fest-friendly pogo that WARTHOG and S.H.I.T. do. It’s fine on record—it works better as a DISCLOSE-esque wall of noise than anything else—but I bet it rocks when you’re surrounded by 300 other people at a big gig.

Reclaim Break EP

Pretty damn good hardcore from California’s oft-neglected High Desert. These guys clearly know their NYHC as much as any other hardcore band in 2020, but they draw upon turn-of-the-millennium bands like CARRY ON and COUNT ME OUT too, especially on opening track “Bloom.” RECLAIM’s sadly terrible cover art will probably doom them to a localcore dungeon, but the tunes are pretty great. Recommended for ardent scene supporters and more discerning hardcore fans alike.

The Uncommitted The Uncommitted LP

The UNCOMMITTED is a solo project of Tim Freeborn, the former singer of Ontario’s SONS OF ISHMAEL, who released one of my favorite EPs of biting juvenile thrash with 1985’s Hayseed Hardcore. Freeborn, now an English professor, improbably weaves lap steel solos into fourteen minutes of otherwise fairly straightforward hardcore, which begins to make sense when you consider his labelmates on Richmond’s Never Met A Stranger label/art imprint—all folk and bluegrass. Freeborn’s voice has deepened significantly over the years, as has his vocabulary—the lyric sheet is a jumble of old-timey esoterica, like a misanthropic McSweeney’s Mad Lib. It comes off a little silly, but self-consciously and playfully so. (I like to play a game when I hear a particularly obscure word in a hardcore song. Does it appear on any other hardcore song in existence? I’m willing to bet many of these words don’t. That itself doesn’t get you anywhere except alongside SHELTER, whose use of “gormandize” in “Civilized Man” is one of a kind as far as I can tell.) Anyway, the UNCOMMITTED has nothing to do with SHELTER, and Freeborn rips through a cover of “Nothing” by the FUGS to reinforce that he’s a proud part of an oddball lineage. It’s a cool and curious record. I probably wouldn’t have sought it out, but I’m glad it found me.

Obsessió Gracies 12″

With members from Greece and Catalonia, OBSESSIÓ’s self-titled 12″ is a pan-European hardcore melange, over faster than it takes to steam a cauliflower. Angela from ’00s Barcelona greats FIRMEZA 10 yells forcefully over straightforward, propulsive hardcore with some surprising Swedish-style rocking guitar licks. It’s kind of like HERÄTYS locked in a sun-bleached squat where the power cuts out every few minutes. The closing track “Atac” is a standout, with some particularly aggrieved grunted vocals. If you have ten records from the past fifteen years, you’re probably covered stylistically, but this is a fine outing and a great debut.

Onward In a Different Place LP

Peter Amdam, a cornerstone of the youth crew scene in Norway and guitarist of ONWARD, died in 2016, and this vinyl reissue of ONWARD’s 1993 CD-only release is a tribute to his memory, with new cover art and a big insert with reminiscences alongside band photos. Sonically, ONWARD is contemplative, melodic youth crew not unlike CHAIN OF STRENGTH. Members went on to form SPORTSWEAR, whose over-the-top adherence to the youth crew aesthetic bordered on parody. You probably know already if you need this or not. It’s Euro youth crew—it’s not going to make any new fans, but if you’ve been missing this from your life, you’re probably stoked to see it get the vinyl treatment.

Dominant Force Cosmic Denial 12″

On first glance, the cover art for DOMINANT FORCE’s debut 12” looks like a middle schooler’s naive interpretation of a woman who might exist in an issue of Heavy Metal, posing in front of the Windows pipes screensaver. This is great in theory, but in practice, no viewing of this art is better than the first time. DOMINANT FORCE’s music sounds cool and aggressive at first glance, with clear and incisive vocals borrowing heavily from John Joseph. In fact, the whole record owes a cosmic debt to the CRO-MAGS circa ’86: swiping riffs, leads, and vibes left and right. DOMINANT FORCE does mix it up with a chirpy, dance-y breakdown during “Conspiracy,” and the record’s length is perfect—these songs aren’t too short, but more than the six offerings here would be a bit tiresome. Like the cover art, “Cosmic Denial” is an enjoyable listen, but lacks the depth to keep me coming back. If you’re reading MRR for gym music recommendations, you could do much worse than slapping this and the NEVER ENDING GAME LP on your phone.