BRAD: 2009 has seen the rise and rise for Boston’s Defeater. Last year they were an act known to few outside the Massachusetts’ scene. Twelve months on, they’ve signed to Bridge Nine, put out an incredible debut LP, Travels, that easily ranks among the best hardcore records of ’09 and now they’ve immediately followed it up with an intense six track EP that manages to leap over the very high bar set by their debut effort.
Concept albums are something you don’t see all that often in the world of hardcore but that’s exactly what Defeater delivers with Lost Ground. Lost Ground is the story of a young American soldier in World War II, from his decision to enlist after being encouraged by his mother, to his violent experiences on the front before his traumatic return home to a society and has shunned and abandoned him.
As far as concepts go, it’s a brilliant yet simple idea that explores new terrain whilst neatly fitting within the usual tropes of hardcore. However it’s a move fraught with danger; come across as too overwrought and you’ll get laughed at; come across as disingenuous and you can kiss goodbye any credibility you once had. It’s a very fine line and the Boston four-piece tread it perfectly, thanks in large part to the understated and powerful lyrics that are delivered with burning intensity from vocalist Jay Maas.
BILLY: For me, it starts and ends with the opening salvo of “The Red, White and Blues”. Musically, it’s unafraid to be both unashamedly modern with its sludgy, mid-tempo bridges, while still holding true to more traditional breakneck conventions. I’m all for urgency in modern hardcore as I think a lot of the slower aspects, while technically sound, tends to take away from some of the more basic nuances of the genre. It’s also a great fucking song because it holds the same kind of closed-fist anger and determination of a young soldier braving for war; unafraid but hopelessly naïve of what’s to come. His determination slowly etches away as his duration through combat continues (in unison of course, to the songs of the EP).
The crescendo reaches a certain kind of apex in “Singin’ New York Town”- just unbearable post-war sadness. Am I wrong to think that this is where the once brave soldier completes his inner disintegration?
BRAD: You’re spot on. What really elevates this record is the cohesion of the songs; the way they meld together to tell the one story. In the opener “The Red White and Blues” (which is a killer opening track that just grabs you by the neck and makes shut up and pay attention) the young man is brave and idealistic- He’s going to change the world and make his family proud. By the final track he’s been kicked to the curb as garbage by the country he protected.
I’m having a hard time deciding which track I find the most powerful; the idealistic naivety of “The Red White and Blues”? The claustrophobic fear of the front line in “The Bite and Sting? The crippling survivor’s guilt in “A Wound and Scar” or the abandonment he feels when he returns home in the final tracks?
It’s a tough choice. Though I will say that “The Bite and Sting” has one of the most shocking endings that I can remember. “Awake up in a hospital bed / There’s rows and rows and rows of dying kid s/ And I know my whole infantry is dead” End song. Talk about a gut punch.
BILLY: In the end, the EP’s conciseness is what makes the material so effective. Concept albums tend to waver on the tedious side- exchanging urgency for “telling a story” not realizing that sometimes the process of ‘beginning-middle-end’ really doesn’t have to be that long to be any good. I will stick with the opening track as my strongest as musically it is my favourite of the bunch. Thematically, it is hard to pick one single song as the entire EP- all 6 songs- provide the punch and the thought in almost perfect unison. I think if they had pushed it further the effectiveness of idea would wear thin. Lost Ground is in my opinion, a great lesson for any band wanting to make their albums as part of a story arc without having to
go on about some mythological masterpiece lost in the vortex of hidden dimensions and blah blah blah be Coheed & Cambria.
BRAD: I find it disturbing to see you and me agreeing so much about one record. But concept albums are a difficult beast and can often be weighed down by their own pretentious sense of self-importance. Lost Ground is lean and mean, yet the story arc that unfolds is what sucks you in and holds you tight in its sweaty grasp. These tracks can be enjoyed individually but their true power emerges only when they’re played together. On top of that, the riffage is solid and will have you pumping your fist and diving off your nearest stage, but it’s the tragic tale of the young man that will keep pulling you back in.
I don’t know where Jay Maas got this idea from, maybe he was a war vet in a past life, but his lyrics are what gives this record its emotional intensity. You’ll feel the paralysing fear of a soldier alone in his trench as bombs drop around him. You’ll feel the guilt of watching your fallen comrades being put into the dirt as you continue breathe in air and you’ll feel the despair and loneliness of begging in the slums of a country that has turned its back on you. After the emotional punch of “Travels”, I shouldn’t really be surprised; nevertheless it’s still impressive to see a band exceed their already high standards in such a short period of time.
2009 has been interesting year for hardcore. When great bands like Have Heart and Verse call it a day, inevitably the question arises: “What’s next for hardcore?” Records like this restore my faith that hardcore will always have the ability to rejuvenate itself. Defeater aren’t Have Heart, they sound nothing like Verse and comparisons with Modern Life is War are misleading- they’re Defeater from Massachusetts and if Lost Ground is the new direction for hardcore in 2010 and beyond then sign me up.
(Bridge Nine Records)
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.