Be prepared for a highly personal eulogy, and for a seriously good record:
This album was the first of a series of split releases from BYO records, pairing up major punk acts. Split releases are always a good way of discovering new artists, and this was the best example of that fact for me.
When I bought this, I was hunting for Hot Water Music albums, having finally - and almost ecstatically - 'got' A Flight and a Crash as well as, I think, having received No Division mail order. (Incidentally, this was also a little after seeing Repeater second-hand and saying to Mr. X "Fugazi - they're meant to be kinda of good, aren't they?" ... shortly after which he bought up their entire catalogue and starting comparing them to Radiohead). I may have already heard of Leatherface, just as another English punk band, but I wasn't too pushed about them either way.
Now, this was not too long ago; long enough for these albums to have been out a while and for me not exactly to be keeping pace with the development of modern post-hardcore. But it was back in the day when I still carried a CD player around with me - MP3? what MP3? - so on the bus back from Tower Records I stuck this straight on to 'Andy', the first track.
I had, literally, never heard a song so good. I had to play it again, just to make sure my ears weren't deceiving me. And right there, I was hooked on Leatherface. 'Andy', from the instant it begins, is pure sublime punk rock. Emotional, rip-roaring, melodic, brash, with more than a deft flick of pop sensibility and lulling, powerful rhythms, all wrapped in a bittersweet joyous catharsis; so beautiful it should break your heart. Infected with a breathless energy which hardly dissipates as the next song, 'Eat Her Face' begins.
Thereafter, with 'Wax Lyrical', the pace is slowed down a bit but keeps the tension and the emotion taut, so that every hook, every surge of melody plays on your nerves like some kind of a tearjerker. It's not just the music - as Stubbs sings the chorus "you open your mouth to move your feet, you open your heart if it's for surgery", you vibrate on some kind of higher plane of emotion.
It's kind of hard to keep up this kind of energy for long, but Leatherface's six songs really do succeed. You're talking levels of speed, density, volume and sheer involvement comparable to the Ramones s/t here. This is serious music - for serious people, perhaps, but more likely just for people who really appreciate an immense wall of noisy, emotive punk coming at them from the speakers.
It's not really surprising that these songs are so good - they are probably Leatherface's best, only Mush as a full-length holding any sort of claim over that title. Direct and uncompromising, this is Leatherface's comeback record, after breaking up on a high - see here. They aren't as raw as the earlier work, and they are quite lush and well-produced by some of their standards, but the power of these songs is carried off with ease.
Leatherface was, then, a tough act to follow. I have to say that at the time the Hot Water Music side of this record was quite eclipsed by the Leatherface songs. These kind of mid-period Hot Water Music songs seem a little toned down compared to the unleashed power of the preceding tracks, but they rock pretty heavily too. And over time, I have come to appreciate the introspection and balance of these songs; by now they are pretty much completely rehabilitated, so that I can nearly hold them equal to the Leatherface half. 'Caught Up' and 'Wrong and Righteous' are excellent, but if one song would justify Hot Water Music's claim to equality on this release, it would be the album closer, 'The Bitter End' - anthemic, weighty, visceral and one of the best songs Hot Water Music ever recorded.
BYO Split Series Vol. 1, 'Leatherface together with Hot Water Music' is one of my very favourite albums, and top amongst the peculiarly hardcore sub-genre of split records - along with Shotmaker-Maximillian Colby and Ampere-Sinaloa. I hope I have done it justice in describing its myriad qualities, because it deserves all the praise it can get. But just in case, I've added in a few more words from the liner notes, and some choice excerpts from the lyrics (both bands have great songwriting talents, even if, as they say, I'd listen to them singing the phone book).
Finally, this week has marked the passing of Lance Hahn, singer and songwriter with the well-known band J Church, which was very much in the same axis of 90's punk-pop, post-hardcore bands as these guys, and who often toured together. Check out sweetbabyjaysus's post here; and check out the posts on our fucking boundaries too.
"When Stubbs and Co. first emerged, pre-Nevermind, before U.S. punk became a new, briefly pathetic plaything for the collegiate, moshing masses, Leatherface was but one of hundreds of brave, hard-working underground bands abroad and here. Now, in a time where there are thousands of faceless, nameless, imagination-less, cookie-cutter "Alternative" bands instead - so much warmed-over metal and 10th-rate punk - Stubbs' tantalizing songwriting, and erudite, generous-heart-on-sleeve lyrics, on top of the band's crisp, explosive playing, and most of all, their outright, undeniable desire, seems a total anomaly as well as an antidote. That this unexpected LP is a reality, and that Leatherface's ardent onslaught will fire of stages here soon, is that rarest of things: a longshot wish fulfilled."
(Jack Rabid, The Big Takeover)
"Their [Hot Water Music's} sound is most often compared to bands like Fuel or Avail - melodic but energetic. In a reviw of their "Fuel For the Hate Game" LP, Mike Kirsch, a member of Fuel and a writer for Maximum Rock'N'Roll, once described their sound as having "in some ways, a very pretty quality, but what sets it apart is a subtle, seething tension boiling just under the surface." Hot Water Music has a powerful, complex sound that pulls you in. Their live show, in particular, lives up to the Avail comparison - you don't truly know this band until you've seen them play and felt the almost electric energy they send out."
(Jen Angel, Fucktooth Fanzine)
"The first second I heard 'Colorado Joe/Leningrad Vlad' exploding from Pat Hughes' speakers, I was hooked. Finding not only a group's music, which picked me up and carried me through anything or anyone that wished to bastardize my life, but a movement of lyrical documentaries I could relate with all too often. This song, 'Springtime,' that we tried not to butcher too horribly is just another one of those songs..."
(Hot Water Music, Never Ender)
"one mans bet
is another mans debt
one womans love
is another womans violence
one womans style
is anothers chance to be cruel a while
this mans drink
is that mans alcoholic for real
the day won't come
& i'd like to thank someone
for leaving us to get things wrong
i pray that day won't come when all thats wrong
is how much we love everyone..."
(Leatherface - 'Gang Party', track 06)
"i won't change where i stand now.
on leaving hate and keeping warmth.
and i won't take to your cold, because
i believe that there is more to life than
just living. and i don't see how you can
stay so covered with cold. i wish you
would open up and shine the light that i knew."
(Hot Water Music - 'The Bitter End', track 11)