The Best Punk on Bandcamp: September 2019

Punk

Bandcamp has long been a home for DIY punk and hardcore from around the world, touching all of the myriad subgenre styles and helping to translate the simple effectiveness of cut-and-paste to the digital age. For September’s edition of the best punk releases on Bandcamp, Kerry Cardoza features the debut full-length from Massachusetts queercore band Dump Him, the righteous feminist anger of Firewalker, Finnish hardcore heavyweights Kohti Tuhoa, and many more.

Puzzlehead
Big Sniff

Vancouver’s Puzzlehead get into “rock cosplay” on this new full-length, out via Stucco Records. The art-punk band—a rotating cast of characters spearheaded by singer Katayoon—have an old-school West Coast sound on this record. Most songs have cool, monotone vocals and dirty guitar redolent of their peers in the Pacific Northwest; think Neo Boys, but weirder. On tracks like the dirge-y “The Carpenter,” Puzzlehead channel the discordant angularity of Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley 69.” Though Sonic Youth doesn’t hail from the west, their big sound and icy attitude always made them fit in right alongside their compatriots in the sludgy PNW. Katayoon plays with the idea of the freedom of rock music throughout, subverting it into something more personal, more off-kilter, more punk. In a recent interview, she noted that freedom “is a construct used to perpetuate colonialism,” and that those in power have the privilege of not caring about consequences. “That is the freedom that rock music has, even if it is a façade or totally self-conscious and constructed,” she says. On Big Sniff, Kayatoon gives rock music the finger, while paying homage to its beloved tropes: big guitar sounds and seeking communion through song.

Dump Him
Dykes To Watch Out For

Dump Him

This brilliant debut full-length from Massachusetts queercore quartet Dump Him (named for an iconic T-shirt worn in 2002 by Britney Spears) sounds like Team Dresch reincarnated. It’s all bright, poppy guitar and earnest lyrics about living through trauma in a fucked-up world. Lead vocalist Jac Walsh sounds like Alison Mosshart from her time fronting Discount: occasionally bratty, but always full of feeling.

The difficulty of overcoming trauma is visited again and again on this record, even when it’s not named outright. There’s the protagonist listening to records on repeat from bed in “What’s Yr Deal With Kim?”; the sense of being a burden to your loved ones on “Song For Frankie And Blinko”; and even the loss of memory described in “Unimportant.” To that end, “Trash” is one of the most poignant tracks, about feeling so undeserving of love or respect that you put up with abject treatment. “I can’t remember the love between bouts of crying,” Walsh sings, as a wailing guitar takes over for the minute-long instrumental outro. It’s more than fitting that this record is out on Get Better Records, a label “for the queers, by the queers.” Dump Him have made a soundtrack for queer kids, to let them know they aren’t totally alone.

Mope Grooves
Desire

Prolific post-punkers Mope Grooves are back again, with a delicately beautiful full-length that brings the band even further into the avant garde. It’s not every punk band that conjures comparisons to Brian Eno, The Raincoats, and Brilliant Colors—with their artful arrangements and dancey beats on this record, they also bring to mind a more low-energy Gauche. Comprising members of L.O.X., Honey Bucket, and Patsy’s Rats, Mope Grooves have a bedroom-recording intimacy. Think fuzzy vocals and guitar, with eerie keyboard sounds, and minimal bass and drums. The band is refreshingly earnest—from painstakingly creating album art by hand, to donating proceeds to causes near and dear to their hearts, to the sometimes brutally honest lyrics. (A previous song had brilliant singer Stevie Pohlman echoing “Why try?”) My favorite track is probably “Bicycle Dancers,” a spare, upbeat, synth-driven track, with a radio excerpt of writer Andrea Long Chu discussing desire. The band calls this their fourth and best LP, and I have to agree.

Susan
As I Was

This sophomore full-length from garage rock darlings Susan is a solid offering: superb production, deft instrumentation, and more of the harmonies that their fans love. Susan draws easy comparison to late-aughts bands like the Dum Dum Girls or the Vivian Girls, from the power-pop hooks to the girl group-inspired vocals. But Susan is solidly of our time—they frequently refer to themselves as an “all male” band or a “boy band,” calling out lazy critics who refer to them as an “all-girl band” (which is not a genre, though such groups have often been lumped together). Guitarist Jessica Owen, bassist Beth Borwell, and drummer Katie Fern share vocal duties, lending a particular dynamism to their sound. The catchiest song has to be the closer, “Haha,” a truly lush track with a wall of sound and a long, tension-building intro. The chorus finds the band loudly singing “Ha ha ha,” seemingly at the song’s subjects, two duplicitous groups who have “the right to cheat.” It could be about any number of frustratingly rigged systems—politics, business, the music industry—but whatever the subject, the ritualistic laughter provides catharsis.

Drill
This is Not a Drill

Philadelphia three-piece Drill play utterly refreshing, no-frills punk. Most tracks are bass-driven, like the raw, no wavey opener “Assimilate,” which recalls the bursts of intensity of bands like The Frumpies. Synth adds a layer of unexpected noise, cutting in like static on “Incomplete,” a wonderfully chaotic, cacophonous song with erratic, shrieked vocals. The best one on here is probably “Predator,” a bass-heavy post-punk number with a hypnotic synth line, that builds and builds in energy and intensity before abruptly fading away.

Firewalker
The Roll Call

Sophie Hendry’s intense, death metal-esque vocals dominate Firewalker’s sound. These four new tracks from the Boston five-piece bring more of what fans have come to love about this band: ‘80s hardcore riffs, intensely perfect breakdowns, and unfathomable depths of anger. The fact that they’re the rare hardcore band that thank bell hooks and Judith Butler in their liner notes only adds to their appeal. Don’t miss opener “The Roll Call,” a short, fiery rager with a righteous mosh part.

Kohti Tuhoa
Ihmisen Kasvot

Hardcore heavyweights Kohti Tuhoa make fast-paced, tom-tom-heavy punk with metal-style guitar shredding and ferocious vocals. This is the third full-length from the Helsinki quartet, and it follows in what has been a gradual trajectory towards a cleaner, more punk sound.

Vocalist Helena Hiltunen keeps each song interesting, veering from hardcore shouting to screaming, reverb sometimes making her words echo and fade into the instrumentation. The album name, Ihmisen Kasvot, translates to “Human Face,” and though the lyrics are sung in Finnish, the liner notes reveal that these 12 new tracks “paint a picture of an overpopulated dystopian world that’s being slowly destroyed by self-centered human behavior.” Kohti Tuhoa’s chaotic sound matches this heavy, hopeless vibe.

The Messthetics
Anthropocosmic Nest

Take Fugazi’s rhythm section, add accomplished jazz guitarist Anthony Pirog, and you’ve got The Messthetics. The instrumental trio play deftly choreographed tracks with clean production and steady intensity. Can avant-garde improvisation—with no vocals—be punk? The Messthetics make a pretty strong case. The mesmerizing guitar lines, as on “Drop Foot,” sound like Greg Ginn cleaned up his act just a bit. I prefer the faster tracks, such as the grooving “La Lontra” or the frenetic “Scrawler.”

Heavy Discipline
Heavy Discipline

This debut release from Pittsburgh’s Heavy Discipline, featuring members of Curmudgeon, Hounds of Hate, and Blood Pressure, hits hard from start to finish, in a whopping six minutes. Complete with angry, shouted vocals, pick slides, and slowed-down mosh parts, this demo has all the hallmarks of classic ‘80s hardcore. It’s hard to believe this band isn’t from Boston; the gnarled vocals and formulaic song structure make them right at home on Painkiller Records. A tight and abrasive listen, with gritty, no-bullshit production values.

-Kerry Cardoza

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