More Than a Moment’s Worth of New Gunk

Joseph Rodriguez for Get Bent:

My pants were more than a little moist after hearing The Men’s title track from their forthcoming LP, Open Your Heart. Well, after listening to the 2nd cut from the LP, “Ex-Dreams”, which also happens to be the albums closer, I’m for sure going to need a new pair of pants.

Open Your Heart drops March 6th via Sacred Bones.

“Follow the links to hear soundclouds of the tracks in questions. These dudes’ last alb made my “I don’t know what I think about this” list, but has subsequently risen higher in my mind’s bleachers. Still, even with that alb, I was choking on bandwagon-dust that’s obviously no fault of the band:

I am spending more time avoiding hype about this band then I am actually listening to them, lest the ad copy cloud my earholes. They have a new one out which strange screens tell me rivals the resurrection of Christ– no, the resurrection of Sprite.  Will I ever catch up to The Men? Funny thing is, despite the hype they cop a real “we’re just a bunch of dudes” attitude in the interviews.  You’d never know they mattered so for so many people who spend time waiting for something to happen to them.

This next alb is being ballyhooed in that “game change” way, as if going from jagged DC punk pulse to Minneapolis blood pus is photosynthesis.  Still, I am interested to hear this record and I like these new tracks fine.  But I suggest you hear this jive before the aforementioned bandwagon-dust clouds your face like a beard of moths; alternatively I suggest you avoid it until 2014. Or, maybe you’re into Tori Amos and this whole bit strikes you like hot garbage.  It’s a free country, bunny-buns.”

The above’s what I wrote about a week ago when it’d hardly take Nostradamus to foresee the gathering hype-clouds around this record, which I don’t mean to malign.  To me it’s all these tender preludes and doubtless unsolicited, weird-ass market fanfare that’re making the album’s release seem less like a baby waiting to burst and more like a stalled burp’s birth.  After writing that relatively cynical blurb about people “waiting for something to happen,” my concerns were affirmed with this piece in my trusted Dusted.  Catch the wide berth this one-dude choir of angels demands as he places the unreleased platter in the context of cache and market share:

Is 2012 the year punk breaks again? If so, who, whooo, WHOOOOOO will be the band to do it? We’re not talking 6 billion sold, MTV Music Awards, dead at 27 broken. Given the fact that 2 of these 3 career goals are no longer open to today’s young enterprising musician, is it even possible? It has been 20 years since “punk” (diy/youth culture) officially started putting up the kind of sales numbers that simply cannot be ignored by the music industry, and by default, the world.

Reviewer By Jon Treneff proceeds to deride the pissmint tea that’s called “indie” in company bathrooms, and rightly notes that 2011 brought some good shit from a scrappy, dusty, bloody and skidmarked underground ponk rawk.

Even discounting the embarrassing amount of great music coming out of Australia, bands like Iceage, Milk Music and The Men all made strong records that referenced, to varying degrees, the traditional tenets of diy and punk. These bands updated, and injected life into a genre that’s been proclaimed dead repeatedly from almost the moment of it’s inception. More importantly, though, they brought this music back into a conversation (popular indie) that’s been heavily dominated by decidedly more flaccid sounds (chillwave, witch house, hypnagogic pop) for a while now.

Sure.  I have caught up with and openly endorse all three of these bands, each of which bring their own slice of, yeah, punk rock (and even HC) to the table of this weird millennium.  But so do a million others, literally more than I can count…so why are these three most emblematic? Apparently we’re supposed to take this on faith: our man’s figured out the possible troika of greatness and the rest of the pack be damned?

The coming year promises to be interesting, the big question being: Can anyone capitalize on this momentum and make a record that transcends the niche audience that has embraced the aforementioned sounds? It’s hard to imagine a band like Iceage swinging far enough towards the pop spectrum, and away from the political/shock factor, to widen their appeal that much more — at least not within the scale of time we’re working with. Milk Music have been growing by leaps and bounds, as anyone who’s caught a recent live show can attest, and could easily make the jump to at least Kurt Vile/War On Drugs popularity without too much stretch of the imagination. Never a band to be beholden to anyone’s hype but their own, though, they don’t seem to be in any great rush to push a record out. And the Australians…frankly just don’t seem to give a fuck if anyone is paying attention. Which leaves us with The Men, who, releasing their second record in a nine-month period, suddenly appear to be in pole position to capitalize on punk’s current cultural moment.

Now we just need to cut loose with a few questions: why does “transcendence,” of genre or subculture or anything else, need be the goal of these bands or, for the critic, the mark of their greatness?  For those old enough to remember, watching dozens of good bands on indie labels get snatched up only to die on the vine of neglectful majors hardly felt like anybody’s “cultural moment” was being generalized or even thoroughly examined by the Contract for America supporters and otherwise unconcerned women and men who fiddly-diddled while Cobain burned. Damned with the faint praise, I guess, of potential for mere Kurt Vile/War on Drugs record sales, which are enough to make those boys a living and drown them in critical bluh-blah, like they should be, Milk Music are cast off as a great band too interested in self-determination to transcend.

Considering that all of the band members now hover around 30, an album like this makes perfect sense right now — guys that probably spent their 20s sorting through punk, post-hardcore, and all manner of extreme/experimental music and have come full circle back to the basic tenets of “what makes a good rock ‘n roll band?” First, do what comes naturally — re-channel the music of your youth; in this case, the 1990s. OG YPG-ers (Year Punk Broke) Sonic Youth continue to be a touchstone on Open Your Heart, but what comes through here even more are the spirits of that era’s slightly more traditional “alterna” acts. Bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Rocket From The Crypt gradually extracted the classic/early rock ‘n roll core from punk, giving kids like me an entry point into things like Neil Young and The Rolling Stones — things I had previously dismissed due to their presence in my Dad’s record collection. One can only hope that Open Your Heart could be that kind of record for someone coming of age right now.

Whether Open Your Heart is the kind of record capable of taking these guys to any kind of “next level” remains to be see. Certainly, this is the sound of a band reaching for something more without the anxiety of expectation weighing them down — an invitation to open your heart and mind, and come along for the ride.

Nobody, nobody should be against the kind of formative record that gets the young ladies and dudes to chase after other, weirder records: that’s how “our thing” works.  But goodness, the underlying contention that these Men have “grown into” the will to make a “basic rock n’ roll record” that hooks their punk wagon to the rock canon is something I’d wanna falsify or uphold with a couple debates.  (I would love to see the publicist’s one-sheet for this record and see if it’s spewing this same kind of apocalyptic spooj about the kingdom of heaven et. al.)  The review concludes with Jon Treneff hedging – shucks, I don’t know if this alb’ll be a big deal! – and picturing the band as entreating us to follow them as they ride on after….what is it, again?  Achieving a “rock” maturity, or cracking into a bigger market, or symbolizing a moment not everybody’s sure we’re having?

For my part, I first want to whisk away the “turning 30, time to start swinging for the fences and filling stadiums” by referring the reviewer to some bands named Fugazi, Shellac, Reigning Sound and Dead Moon, just for examples, that seem blissfully ignorant, if not antagonistic, towards his mandated constellation of age/aesthetic/brand.  Thank Christ, is all I can say.  For the 1000s of bands who’ve followed the same rubric and haven’t done so with record deals or meal buyouts, all one can do is tip the cap and buy the 7″ and get warmed by feeling un-alone for two sides of a 45.

Secondly, I daresay all of us who pay attention withstanding more than a moment: it’s more like an ice age, if you’ll pardon the double entendre to those misunderstood non-nationalist Danes.  I took it upon myself to cross fear-streams and email none other than Andrew Earles a couple days ago to make the point that, however well-met this resurgence of punk rock is, we have to be closing in on some sketchy quality-control moments.  In particular, prolific labels like The Men’s Sacred Bones seem like they’re bound to oversaturate and degrade at some point, as did SST in the late 80s or, more instructively for us I think, Estrus in the 90s.  So you’d think? So I think, or I did think until reading this prophesy from Dusted.  Certainly nothing could be worse for quality control than a bunch of these bands deciding to make their “game-changer, major-attractor” album at once or in a sick succession.  Of course, it’s also 2012, and the relative advantages of being on a major are close to nil.  You tour to survive and make records for love; hence the return of the 7″ as a key medium, which more than aids a genre whose whole arc bends towards a certain homogeneity.  That said, if you survey a list of bands and labels, and consider their work and their places in the world as ends in themselves, not stepping stones, you might conclude that we’re on to something that might be built to last.

What follows is purely off the top of my head and probably doesn’t constitute a scene. It’s just stuff I came to lump together.

Labels

  1. Goner
  2. In the Red
  3. Douchemaster
  4. Rob’s House
  5. Trouble In Mind
  6. Sacred Bones
  7. Hozak
  8. Tic Tac Totally

Bands

  1. Ty Segall
  2. Mikal Cronin
  3. Sex Cult
  4. Sex Church
  5. Royal Headache
  6. Royal Baths
  7. Moonhearts
  8. Night Beats
  9. Predator
  10. White Mystery
  11. The Reigning Sound
  12. Liquor Store
  13. UV Race
  14. TV Ghost/Timmy’s Organism
  15. Slug Guts
  16. Radar Eyes
  17. NoBunny
  18. Kitchen’s Fllor
  19. Heavy Times
  20. Jacuzzi Boys
  21. Fresh and Onlys
  22. Girlfriends
  23. Dan Melchior
  24. Total Control
  25. Thee Oh Sees
  26. Pop. 1280
  27. Total Abuse
  28. Bare Wires
  29. White Wires
  30. OBN IIIs
  31. Bad Sports
  32. Davilla 666
  33. The People’s Temple
  34. Cola Freaks
  35. GG King
  36. Matt K Shrugg
  37. Meercaz
  38. Terrible Twos
  39. Purling Hiss
  40. Natural Child
  41. Useless Eaters
  42. The Spits
  43. King Khan
  44. Black Lips
  45. Rank/Xerox
  46. Tyvek
  47. Hank IV
  48. Cheap Time
  49. Gentleman Jesse
  50. Apache Dropout

I guess that’s enough to make the point that there is a fuckload of shit going down, and bear in mind I left out bands that run with this crowd but don’t hover around the same constellation of sounds.  I’d say it’s more than a moment‘s worth of great shit, depending how many people quit bands, close up labels, fall prey to booze or junk and/or disappear.  I think these bands and their not-that-loose community comprises less something like the strip mine that was Seattle, and more like a well-endowed community center set to inform and soil future generations.  Rather than ending in gunshots, I wanna reverse course and instead imagine this crowd comprising something like the “gunk punk” era espoused and delineated in Eric Davidson’s praiseworthy We Never Learn.  Beneath the music shouted-out above creeps a deep devotion to a mildly revisionist rock and punk canon that differs significantly from the flute play and other tepid sonics ignorantly championed as inheritors of whatever SST, Homestead, Touch and Go and Drag City themselves once presented as an alternative to college-rock’s hegemony.  As I keep saying, the Killed By Death comps are to this crowd what Nuggets was to earlier punks and what Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music meant to Dylan and the sharper folkies.  Bands take up the unprofitable and listener-unfriendly habit of prolific releases, in limited runs and on tiny labels.  So doing, they historically reenact the initial waves of 77 UK and US HC singles that flooded nonexistent markets, damned great bands to obscurity while shit-bands sailed to punk glory, and ultimately demanded archaeological digs like Bloodstains and Killed by Death to set the story straight, or at least tell a story where once there was only the leftover debris from a great wave.

This strategy – or is it an aesthetic, or is it merely the aggregate output of a critical mass/mob? – is only interesting because cool-to-great bands are pursuing it, and because it is the opposite of a setting made to “break” punk.  That doesn’t mean it won’t happen – and because I’m a snotty prick with what feels like something to lose, I really want to hear that The Men LP before I hear it through the prism of anymore press-worship – but maybe it means that the population can survive losing one of the herd to a predator.  Hell, maybe The Men can withstand reviewers liking their record, even. It’s happened before.

Advertisements

One Response to “More Than a Moment’s Worth of New Gunk”

  1. Piss Christ + Pigfuck: A Companion Piece « The PrisonShip Says:

    […] More Than a Moment’s Worth of New Gunk […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: