Terminal Consumption is a monthly reviews column focused on the shadowy margins of punk and hardcore.
Behavior—375 Images of Angels [Iron Lung]
With 375 Images of Angels, Los Angeles trio Behavior emerges with a creaky, dour, willfully addled rock full-length that sounds stippled with pretty flecks of rust and leery of its own tenuous connection to punk. Passages of mean-spirited churn abut busted ballads and instrumentals composed of guitar harmonics and skittering cymbal, disparate tendencies unified by the vocalist’s bleating, miserablist wail.
It’s tempting to peg 375 Images of Angels as a rebuff to punk convention, but that’s too limiting. The mood seems less contrarian and more intrepid, preoccupied with letting the collaborative whims of three distinct players arrive at illogical conclusions. At minimum, Behavior is akin to Institute’s downtrodden anti-hymns, or the bleary, inventive post-punk pulsations of Total Control, but 375 Images of Angels’ riskiest tracks—the ones that eschew coherent beats or coherent riffs for minutes at a time—evoke improvisers’ oft-professed quest for non-idiomatic expression.
To that end, 375 Images of Angels’ recording is clear and dry, foregrounding a drummer capable of both ghost notes and pugilistic hardcore beats; a guitarist interested in brittle, tuneless clang and glassy non-riffs alike; and a bassist bold enough to subtly undermine Behavior’s scree with spindly melodies. Together on highlights such as “Dry Swift Horse,” “78,” and “For Contempt,” they seem to challenge and provoke one another as much, if not more, than the audience.
375 Images of Angels’ listing on the reigning West Coast punk and hardcore label Iron Lung’s website begins with a lengthy John Cage quote, in which the composer remembers observing a mechanized pen’s inky malfunction. Discipline, gone awry. It’s a resonant tidbit. But the album’s lyrics contain their own poetic analogies. “Outfit,” for instance, initially echoes Tom Verlaine in Television’s “Venus De Milo”: “And then Nikki said / What if we dressed like cops? / Think of what we could do.” Then comes an original proposition: “What if we dressed like the weather?” It’s an apt little pivot: away from homage to a tangentially punk band and towards the absurdist brinkmanship at Behavior’s core.
Deformity: Bug Collection [D4MT Labs] & Beta Boys: Real Rockers [Lumpy/Eat the Life]
In 1976, Crime appeared with the self-released “Hot Wire My Heart” single and one bold claim: “San Francisco’s First and Only Rock ‘n Roll Band.” Crime was skeptical of the incipient term “punk,” opting to situate its indisputably punk music and autonomous operation explicitly in another, longer-running tradition: rock. Crime was image-conscious and suspicious of trends, but the pro-rock stance has recurred in punk ever since, often to oppose scene politicization, emphasize traditional guitar tropes, or reinstate churlish individualism (“garage rock” revivalism, one could argue, is an ongoing effort to do all three). Deformity and Beta Boys respectively typify the latter two inclinations.
On Bug Collection, which compiles Deformity’s discography while members focus on a newer project, JJ Doll, the New York group oscillates between straight-ahead, mid-tempo gait and eager gallop, foregrounding at either pace its anguished, squealing guitar, which betrays a nightmarish understanding of preternaturally savage 1950s players like Link Wray. With help from the recording, fetid and squelched as it, Deformity’s reclamation of early rock ‘n roll isn’t scrubbed and poised enough for nostalgia, surging instead with decidedly contemporary tenacity.
Real Rockers, the latest EP from Beta Boys, is the work of a punchy, airtight ensemble with a vocalist whose facetious rodeo yowl brings the Vandals to mind. And whereas Deformity’s rock ‘n roll communion happens largely at the level of the guitar, the Kansas City outfit appeals explicitly to prickly rock individualism: Real Rockers’ title track features both an Elvis sample and the line, “We’re the Beta Boys and we don’t care.” It’s familiar reverberation of the old Sex Pistols mantra, which Sid Vicious, with his later “My Way” cover, implicitly credited to Sinatra. Punk, both groups prove, is wise to remain receptive to rock.
On several self-released cassette tapes, outlying Bay Area outfit Acrylics has articulated a cracked blitzkrieg vision of punk, at once destabilized by careening dual guitars and undergirded by low-end murk. On Acrylics’ latest, an eponymous six-track tape, the songs are increasingly knotty and circuitous, like mangled superstructures from which the riffs look to violently wrest free. The drums, meanwhile, lock with Beta Boys’ similarly staccato, even hysterical, vocals, but it’s the guitars—their tandem buzz, ghastly feedback, and plummeting, dive bomb leads—that lend Acrylics its thrilling, unwieldy propulsion.
Tyrannamen—Tyrannamen [Cool Death]
As contemporary Australian acts praised for switchblade soul go, the group best known stateside is Royal Headache, but Melbourne’s Tyrannanem proves similarly beaming, boozy, and mussed on its eponymous debut. “I Can’t Read Your Mind” is a rousing opener, charged with rollicking fills and ragged hooks, while “My Concrete” is a lumbering, soured ballad about strife on a city block. The group sounds palpably present, embodying their instruments and racing to stay ahead of the beat, which instills Tyrannanamen with the kinetic motion of a live recording (reading that, for five years leading up this debut, the group amassed a mighty live reputation is no surprise). And upon repeat listens, the Royal Headache comparison will feel less salient. Whereas Royal Headache evokes spritely, pop-inflected 1970s punk acts such as The Undertones, Tyrannanmen slots more so into an American lineage that includes The Reigning Sound and The Golden Boys, mid-2000s acts whose emphatic melodies resonated all the more for their messy, desperate delivery.
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