Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Shape of Punk To Come: 2001-2007 (A Mixtape)

As introduced in the previous post, this is my idea of what the best punk and hardcore records of the new millenium have been; what has measured up to Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come (1998); or, indeed, to the many other seminal records of the 1990s. I said there that I would try to justify my criteria, because there are some. These aren't just my favourite albums of recent time - though these are of course some of those - but instead something slightly more specific. These are albums which have, in my estimation, provided something new to the sound of punk and hardcore, and kept it from becoming a stale and shallow genre. These are albums which in my own experience I can claim to have changed how I viewed music, the expression of ideas through music, and the creation of art via music.

As to what's punk and what's not, it goes to the very heart of this list. The shape of punk to come, almost by definition, has to incorporate change and diversity in styles. It's difficult to judge whether people will regard this selection as too broad or too narrow for their understanding of the central term. For the most part, I've kept to a simple ear test for the definition of punk/not punk - you'll know it if you hear it. Roughly speaking, I think the first three choices fit into a definition of 'post-hardcore', and the last three 'screamo'. The fact that the division falls chronologically - the order in which the bands appear - is not entirely coincidental, as I'll explain further on.

(The picture above is a composite of two elements - my own photograph of the A Flight and A Crash LP, and an inset from the cover of Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come.)

Side One:

1. Hot Water Music - 'A Flight and A Crash' (A Flight and A Crash, Epitaph, 2001)

2. American Steel - 'Shrapnel' (Jagged Thoughts, Lookout!, 2001)

3. Mclusky - 'To Hell With Good Intentions' (Mclusky Do Dallas, Too Pure, 2002)

4. Envy - 'Unrepairable Gentleness' (A Dead Sinking Story, Level Plane, 2003)

5. La Quiete - 'Raid Aereo Sul Paese Delle Farfalle' (La Fine non é la Fine, React With Protest/Heroine, 2004)

6. Ampere - 'In Antiquity' (Split Recording, Ebullition, 2006)

Side Two:

7. American Steel - 'Rainy Day' (Jagged Thoughts, Lookout!, 2001)

8. Hot Water Music - 'A Clear Line' (A Flight and A Crash, Epitaph, 2001)

9. Mclusky - 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues' (Mclusky Do Dallas, Too Pure, 2002)

10. Envy - 'Go Mad and Mark' (A Dead Sinking Story, Level Plane, 2003)

11. La Quiete - 'La Fine non é la Fine' (La Fine non é la Fine, React With Protest/Heroine, 2004)

12. Sinaloa - 'The Earth is On Fire' (Split Recording, Ebullition, 2006)

The Shape of Punk To Come: 2001-2007

Hot Water Music, A Flight and a Crash

This is my favourite record of all time. It's also the first album on the list because (as well as having a great opening track) it's one of the earliest. Hot Water Music have been releasing great albums from the mid-90s, with their generally agreed masterpiece Fuel For The Hate Game coming out in 1997. A Flight and A Crash, however, marked their first release for punk behemoth Epitaph Records and a major creative juncture in their career.

A Flight and a Crash takes the anthemicism of 1999's No Division, the meditative depth of 1997's Forever and Counting, and just enough of the original hardcore edge of Fuel For The Hate Game to combine it all into a truly remarkable record. Some very subtle electronic ambience and always superb songwriting make this Hot Water Music's crowning achievement, for me, as the most important and most creative punk band in my life. Even if took me a long while to get into this album at first, beyond the attraction of its post-Fugazi guitar sound and deep melody, when it hit it hit hard.

'A Flight and a Crash' is on the mixtape for its immediate sucker punch of melodic post-hardcore; "heart pounding/from the screaming/heart racing now"; and for it's introduction to HWM's gravelly vocals and searing emotional content. Even though it is several strands removed in many ways, this was my original introduction (pre-Swing Kids/Moss Icon) to the world of emo. 'A Clear Line', on the second side of the mixtape although still within the first side of the album, is there because it has a deeper effect. Just as mesmerising musically, if a little more sedate by comparison, it has just the most amazing lyrics and message: philosophical, personal, political... every line of it is meaningful to me, and it's difficult to sum it up except as a very human, very progressive attitude to living life in any sort of reasonable, sustainable way (read the lyrics here.)

(I haven't covered this band on the blog in any extent proportional to how important they are to me, but the video for the song immediately following the opener 'A Flight and a Crash', 'Paper Thin', was posted here.)

American Steel - Jagged Thoughts

This particular band has been mentioned even less on the blog, which is probably why they didn't initially come to mind when I answered urbanology's comment. However, when I think of bands that have done something different and very special with punk in the last decade of music, this band, and this album, definitely crop up. American Steel are/were a band from the San Francisco East Bay area, like Green Day, and hence their signing to Lookout! Records. They always had a big punk sound, fast and sort of punk-pop (and ska) influenced, but just as much on the hardcore punk rock side of things. Two initial albums, a breakneck speed self-titled effort and the viscerally mournful yet positive, far more developed, Rogue's March led to this 2001 record.

Jagged Thoughts is a creative masterpiece, blending artistic expression with punk fury in a way that goes back to the early Clash records. Around the time of the recording of Rogue's March, the guitarist Ryan battled with leukemia, an experience which informed a lot of the spirit of that album and further transferred on to Jagged Thoughts. In essence, it is a beautiful piece of music, but also an utterly powerful, explosive punk record.

Since the album came out in the same year as A Flight and A Crash, as well as both bands combining a strong emotional sense and post-hardcore styles, I thought I would switch the order of the songs from those albums around between the two sides of the mix. Hence the first side features the slow, building 'Rainy Day', which turns instantaneously between gentle near-silence and thunderously loud guitar chords, while the second side opens right off the start with 'Shrapnel', the bewitching, hook-laden album opener of "jagged words are all I've heard, spitting shards of vitriol/jagged thoughts are all that I've got, shredding my soul".

Mclusky, Mclusky Do Dallas

A step away, but not too far, from the US is this band from Cardiff, Wales. Mclusky Do Dallas - named after the porn film of the similar name - was the middle of Mclusky's three albums and the seminal one in terms of their Pixie-ish, lyrically demented noise attack on rock music. I posted the album a long time ago, and have spoken about them many times since - partly because of the rise of the slightly influenced Fight Like Apes in the Irish music scene, partly because of the output of the post-break up bands Future of the Left and Shooting at Unarmed Men (more on which later) and partly because they are a hugely important UK punk/post-punk band that deserves to be heard.

Mclusky Do Dallas, released in 2002, was recorded by Steve Albini and bears the imprint of a viscerally noisy, hard-edged production. Nevertheless the album is amazingly tuneful, catchy and almost inspiringly enjoyable to listen to. 'To Hell With Good Intentions' was the key single release from the album, and as a heavy, ironic piece of 21st-century post-hardcore ferocity, it caught the imagination - I still hear it on the radio now and then. This was not least because of the clever, repetitive lyrics ("we take more drugs than a touring funk band"), the infectious rhythm and the incessant tension yearning to flip out into sheer sonic destruction.

Punk, especially in the UK context, was probably too narrow a genre to confine Mclusky to. Sex Pistols this ain't. Or rather, it is, but reborn in a truly frenetic, revolutionary fashion. 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues' affected me thus: "That white-hot sonic anarchy, the complete abandon of scatological lyrics and eye-popping vocals, it took me out of any disillusionment I may have been having about the ability of punk rock to physically and musically move me" (from this post).

Envy, A Dead Sinking Story

Another band I've mentioned frequently, and presumably most of you have already heard. However, this album was revelatory, pure and simple, for me on first listen. If Hot Water Music was my introduction to post-hardcore with an emo dimension, this was my introduction to the no less complex world of 'screamo'. People scream for all sorts of reasons in all sorts of genres, and often to no greater effect than explosions in an ordinary Hollywood film. But here, like this, screaming is the most beautiful, intense expression of punk rock music you will possibly ever hear. Undeniably the songs are epic, and much of the beauty in fact comes from the slowed down, very quiet interludes of guitar and drums with a bit of spoken word, but the full crescendo provides an immediate, inescapably loud statement of hardcore only half-mixed with the stirring sounds of post-rock.

'Unrepairable Gentleness' I chose in a part as a double-take on the ferocious ending of the Mclusky track, launching straight into the loudness of the Envy album, but it shortly develops into a much more complex, layered song, full of twists and turns and an ever-ascending journey towards the heights of emotional expression. 'Go Mad and Mark' is broadly similar, but opens right on the melody line of the song and introduces that key balance of delicate mournfulness and harsh fury that characterises the Envy songs of this period. In short, these songs are throughout their epic lengths fascinating exhibitions of how hardcore/'screamo' can be such an emotionally affecting genre.

In terms of influence on the genre as a whole, this album may be the most important of the lot (bearing in mind the stream of developing Envy releases before this.) Epic screamo became a new artistic achievement of punk, and a new facet of the general post-hardcore spread that resulted from the need to do something new with the sounds of the 90s generation. Whereas Hot Water Music, American Steel and Mclusky all took punk and hardcore outwards into a redefining of punk-pop and post-punk music, Envy and the other modern screamo bands took the sound deeper within the genre, and came up with something even stranger and more beautiful.

La Quiete, La Fine non é la Fine

Very soon into this screamo renaissance, La Quiete came up with probably the most beautiful creation of the genre yet. This gorgeous album actually falls a little short of the melodic exactitude and perfection of the Italian band's 2006 self-titled 7", but as an overall statement of their style it still stands proud. Perhaps stemming from the combination of their Italian lyricism and their technical astuteness, it is marvellous, chaotic, indescribable assault of punk rock.

'Raid Aereo Sul Paese Delle Farfalle' - meaning 'Air Raid on the Butterfly Country' is the relatively brief opening gambit of the album: initially a dense, seemingly inpenetrable mess of drums and shouting; but also a rapidly developing creation of melody, rhythm, hooks and joyful excess - what could, again in the 21st century, be more punk rock? 'La Fine non é la Fine', the final, title track is a more epic expansion of the method that all the album's songs are based on. While similar, it is still far more compact than Envy's style of screamo, and tries at almost every moment to squeeze more melody and more emotion out of its sound. It has a central riff which is viewed from various vantage points, clear and open or closed, dense and furious. It is the openness which wins out in the end, rolling out the album in quite classic emo style (think Indian Summer) but in a subtly new, joyous sense.

Ampere/Sinaloa, Split Recording

Finally, I covered this very record only a few short months ago, so I'm not sure what to add on this occasion. On so many levels, this is a great record. It brings together two groups. whose styles are very noticeably different - Ampere, harsh and abrasive; Sinaloa, slower and more melodic - yet fit together brilliantly. It is packaged superbly, and the artistic, lyrical and political content does credit to the bands and the label, Ebullition.

The importance of the record as a punk album, however, lies partly in the context of the success of the two bands mentioned above. Outside of the US, the screamo genre seemed to have reached greater creative heights in terms of emotion, while the genre within turned more towards a more technical kind of creativity (I'm thinking of Off Minor, Kidcrash here). A subjective assessment, admittedly, but I often found American screamo lacked soul when compared with the best of what countries outside the US had to offer. Sinaloa in particular changed that for me. Ampere too, although their creativity is especially on the technical, quasi-grind side - the connected Bucket Full of Teeth project being the ultimate fulfilment of that trend, and would be on this list if it wasn't too far outside the self-imposed (ad hoc) bounds of punk/hardcore of this list.

So there it is, my top six records that changed punk rock since Refused. Feel free to disagree. In fact, please do.


cretin said...

where's american idiot?

Anonymous said...

i don't know if you like modern life is war, but Witness deserves a nod.

Ape Mummy said...

Sweet zombie Jesus. This mixtape finally brought me out of my shell. Can't argue with La Quiete, Ampere or Sinola. But Hot Water Music from an album far from their best (yes, I know it's yr fav, and the heart wants what it wants, but, DAMN!)? American Steel? Not even the best band from the era with "American" in their name. And I still don't get the McClusky hype. Is it a Brit thing? Am I missing something? No doubt...I've been a dumb mongo for years.

I will agree with Brad...Witness is the tits. And it's late here in Baltimore, so my suggestions are few and far between. Besides, I never was good at following assignments, and I tend gloss over the details.

...maybe I'll have something more productive later.

Hell of an endeavor you have here, when it's all said and done. It's incredibly nice to see someone put some serious critical work towards music rarely taken so seriously.

Ape Mummy said...

...and another thing...yes, the choice of Envy is an inspired one, and an easy one. Having blown off their appearance in town a few years ago, I have grown to really love these guys. In fact, I think a HfN post may have directly led to me purchasing A Dead Stinking Story. So tip o' the cap on that one.

And I love my inadvertant Mclusky typo. Now I feel like a real tool.

Nick Iluzada said...

Maybe i'm off but i do feel like Orchid needs to be on there(broke up in 02?). Possibly On the Might of Princes too. That's probably my opinion though.

Anonymous said...

orchid kinda compiled a lot of things other bands did into one, but they pulled it off well. the list already has enough will killingsworth. converge's jane doe isn't in there too. i suppose that fits somewhere in the punk realm, kinda. pg 99, document #8? there's too many albums to go off. and these are what he feels are the best we may not agree, but some out there may. i'm going down my itunes sorted by year right now, looking for albums that deserver a mention....botch's we are the romans i suppose. the plot to blow up the Eiffel tower's dissertation, honey, funeral diner's the underdark. i don't know. i have shitty taste in music so opinion obsolete.

gabbagabbahey said...

hey everybody, thanks for the disagreement!

cretin - American Idiot is a good album, even a very good album, but I think they had their chance with Dookie/Insomniac. As a big Green Day fan, I wouldn't hold up American Idiot as a major new punk album of the 00s. More of a return to form, albeit in punk opera...

brad - this is going to be a recurring theme, but I'm not into contemporary hardcore much. Good suggesion though.

ape mummy - glad to have been some form of provocation. On HWM, A Flight and a Crash is not only my favourite, but in my honest opinion also their best. I did say Fuel for the Hate Game was their "generally agreed masterpiece". Plus I think there's an important shift between it and their pre-Epitaph output.
American Steel was always going to be the curveball, I reckoned, but that album is way underrated. Just like AFaAC, really. Notice I completely forgot to mention that they reunited to releases Destroy Your Future, which isn't half as good. What's the other band with American in the name?
Is Mclusky a Brit thing? Possibly. But Steve Albini isn't. Nor are the Pixies.
People always misspell the name, don't worry.
Envy, yeah, probably a no-brainer. And especially that album.
Thanks for the compliment re: criticism. maybe if I hadn't written this all in one go I could have made a better argument, but all I'm looking to do is start one, really!

- nick. I'm not sure when the various Orchid albums came out exactly, but I think it was too early for what I had in my mind. But then, it would have been after Refused, so mea culpa. I sorta prefer Ampere to Orchid, but it's hard to say. I guess take Ampere/Sinaloa as a cipher for a lot of those Will Killingsworth/Ebullition bands.
Also Wolves, really like them.

- brad, again. converge, botch both too heavy for my taste really (though I have no problem with Bucket Full of Teeth, oddly). pg. 99, yeah, I should check out. I suppose actually there is a turn-of-the-century screamo genre that come between the end of Refused and the real impact of Envy.
cool, I've learnt something today.
Funeral Diner, Underdark is another very good album but I think covered a good deal, stylistically, by the inclusion of Envy. Extending to this year, though, I am really liking ...Who Calls So Loud.

and any other recommendations, I'll keep them in mind to check out. If I get enough, I can always do another list :)

gabbagabbahey said...

^ pg. 99 check out more! and I meant that I didn't talk about or include that branch of screamo enough, not that I've just realised that it exists...

*argument unravels*

Jared Dillon said...

going to see HWM on saturday :]

cretin said...

nah, I was just kidding with the american idiot remark. I wouldn't consider it a bad album by any means, but (over here, at least) it just got so ridiculosly hyped up and overplayed tht I wouldn't mind never hearing it again.

as for actual picks, I'd pretty much parrot a lot of what's been said: Pg. 99, Modern Life is War, On the Might of Princes... throw in ATD-I and Against Me! (the more I think about it, 2001 was a very good year) and that'd be my top 5.

oh, and good playlist too. I already had most of this stuff (minus American Steel and HWM), but had never given it much time. if nothing else, it reminded me that la quiete is awesome.

josephlovesit said...

"more turn-of-the-century-metalcore!"
Haha, I know better than to suggest that at this point. Sometimes I think bands like Botch are more on the metal side than the punk side anyway. Their sound is too refined.

However, I'm curious as to what you'd think of Dan Deacon's shot of getting on a list like this? I see his aesthetic (visually and sonically) as pretty punk. And sure there are no guitars, but I guess that's pretty punk too.

gabbagabbahey said...

that's exactly the sort of analytical question this lis was designed to avoid!

I deliberately kept it to things that 'sounded' punk to keep it focused, but then the whole reason Dan Deacon attracted me in the first place was that 'Crystal Cat' 'sounded' like the Ramones boiled down to electronic/dance music. Tough question.

I guess as well I wanted to keep it to stuff that people would recognise as somewhat punk in the first place, not on second thought "oh, that sounds like punk played in x/y/z genre". It's flawed by being deliberatively insular.

not that I totally disagree with you, but I've always been skeptical of the punk as aesthetic/artistic method argument. From the 80s on, if not earlier, punk as an idea becomes subsumed into the wider world of art, kinda like 'rock and roll' in the 60s. so anything and everything becomes punk... whereas I'm talking about a specifically identifiable genre, however progressive the 'shape'.

josephlovesit said...

I definitely see what you're saying. And it sounds like you're open to perhaps, in the context of another list/mix/discussion, arguing for something like Dan Deacon as punk (in some sensibility). But yea, it's appropriate to draw the line when you're presenting something like this.

d. said...

I listened to this mix all the way riding home on the train tonight. I was stuck between a fat lady wearing a bulky bag on her shoulders, and a little kid who thought it was fun to step on my show. And strangely everything went smoothly thanks to this mix. Thanks man.

gabbagabbahey said...

glad to be of help

Chad said...

I fully agree on the Sinaloa/Ampere picks.

Both of those bands are pushing the boundaries of hardcore music and I think both will come to be highly regarded as an influential force after they break up (along the lines of Refused's impact on heavy music).

I also think you should've included Modern Life is War's "Witness," but overall a cool list/read. I need to check out American Steel.

I'd like to mention Who Calls So Loud - s/t. That record takes everything I love about heavy music and combines it into one hell of a package.