Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin/Galway, Ireland. 26, history graduate & human rights student
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Dec 31
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HFN 2011 - 1: EMA - ‘Butterfly Knife’ from Past Life Martyred Saints

EMA | PLMS | HFN 2011

This is one of two tracks from this album I haven’t posted (the other being ‘Breakfast’, which I’ve never been able to figure out what in hell it’s about). I still have some stuff written by other people on EMA that I want to string together, so I’m not finished with this album yet - it’d be pretty terrible if I was, right? - but for now, this is the last post of the year. Thanks for listening, and reading!

(also thanks to Lisa for noting that you can watch my “EMA fixation progress” in chronological order, by using that link. To pick up the point in her post, not only am I glad that at least some of you enjoyed my writing on EMA this year, but I immensely enjoyed having something of a focus and a topic which could be unfolded at length. I don’t consider myself to be by nature an obsessive kind of person, but I can analyse and ‘over’ think the fuck out of something if I appreciate it enough…)

90 plays
EMA HFN 2011
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martynleung:

© Martyn Leung
Erika M. Anderson (EMA), photograph taken at Cargo, September 2011. Her album ‘Past Life Martyred Saints” has earned some rave reviews in the music and general press. After about ten listens, I’m not completely blown away by it, but I suspect it could be one of those records which slowly eats at me over time, and I’ll end up loving it. But watching her and her band live on stage is a different matter. I caught EMA three times this year, and loved the intensity, rawness and emotion displayed each time, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing her on a bigger stage next year.

I didn’t go to that many gigs this year, but mainly that meant the gigs I did go to were the ones I really wanted to see. So: Ham Sandwich’s long-delayed tribute to their late manager Derek Nally, which featured a host of musical guests and performances of classic pop songs such as ‘Gloria’ and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’; Si Schroeder’s momentary return to prominence with a very fine single for the long-awaited but unfortunately rather unlikely-sounding second album Holding Patterns; Dan Deacon, yet again; Grant Hart carrying the strength of his solo and Husker Du work on the sound of a ragged voice and otherwise unaccompanied electric guitar; Battles, mixing things up as usual; and most recently, human drum-and-bass combo Rarely Seen Above Ground whose Fugazi-meets-New Wave album I really liked in late 2008 but never got to see him until now.  
But of course, the only gig that really mattered was the one I travelled across the Irish sea for, to see EMA perform one of her UK dates in London (and to finally get hold of the origin of the seemingly pretentious quote I have at the top of this blog). To be honest it probably wasn’t as utterly amazing as I could have imagined it - being on my own and in a venue which only served shit beer probably didn’t help - but it was still a superb gig by most standards, and fascinating to both feel the noise (live, ‘Marked’ is nothing if not Velvet Underground-ish) and to experience the theatrical rawness of the songs freed from the aspic of recording. And questions of ‘was it worth it to go all that way’ didn’t come into it, because it was great to explore London a bit and, in any case, I wasn’t not going to go see my by-far favourite artist of the year play when Dublin and London are so comparatively close.
This photograph, from that very gig, is pretty great because it shows EMA doing what she does best: inhabiting and transcending the ‘male’ rock persona. In fact,  underneath the raised arm you can just see the pit hair - it’s kind of embarrassing for me to mention this (because when guys talk about women’s bodies in this way it usually has the effect of detracting from their intellectual and artistic endeavours, yadda yadda) but it’s something I generally find sexy and I had noticed right from the start in the 'California' video. It’s only a small thing, which shouldn’t be considered that unusual, but subjectively and symbolically I think it’s pretty awesome, and if you’re looking for somewhere to start (other than the music, obviously) with EMA, this little gesture of punk rock/feminism might not be too bad. 

martynleung:

© Martyn Leung

Erika M. Anderson (EMA), photograph taken at Cargo, September 2011. Her album ‘Past Life Martyred Saints” has earned some rave reviews in the music and general press. After about ten listens, I’m not completely blown away by it, but I suspect it could be one of those records which slowly eats at me over time, and I’ll end up loving it. But watching her and her band live on stage is a different matter. I caught EMA three times this year, and loved the intensity, rawness and emotion displayed each time, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing her on a bigger stage next year.

I didn’t go to that many gigs this year, but mainly that meant the gigs I did go to were the ones I really wanted to see. So: Ham Sandwich’s long-delayed tribute to their late manager Derek Nally, which featured a host of musical guests and performances of classic pop songs such as ‘Gloria’ and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’; Si Schroeder’s momentary return to prominence with a very fine single for the long-awaited but unfortunately rather unlikely-sounding second album Holding PatternsDan Deacon, yet again; Grant Hart carrying the strength of his solo and Husker Du work on the sound of a ragged voice and otherwise unaccompanied electric guitar; Battles, mixing things up as usual; and most recently, human drum-and-bass combo Rarely Seen Above Ground whose Fugazi-meets-New Wave album I really liked in late 2008 but never got to see him until now.  

But of course, the only gig that really mattered was the one I travelled across the Irish sea for, to see EMA perform one of her UK dates in London (and to finally get hold of the origin of the seemingly pretentious quote I have at the top of this blog). To be honest it probably wasn’t as utterly amazing as I could have imagined it - being on my own and in a venue which only served shit beer probably didn’t help - but it was still a superb gig by most standards, and fascinating to both feel the noise (live, ‘Marked’ is nothing if not Velvet Underground-ish) and to experience the theatrical rawness of the songs freed from the aspic of recording. And questions of ‘was it worth it to go all that way’ didn’t come into it, because it was great to explore London a bit and, in any case, I wasn’t not going to go see my by-far favourite artist of the year play when Dublin and London are so comparatively close.

This photograph, from that very gig, is pretty great because it shows EMA doing what she does best: inhabiting and transcending the ‘male’ rock persona. In fact,  underneath the raised arm you can just see the pit hair - it’s kind of embarrassing for me to mention this (because when guys talk about women’s bodies in this way it usually has the effect of detracting from their intellectual and artistic endeavours, yadda yadda) but it’s something I generally find sexy and I had noticed right from the start in the 'California' video. It’s only a small thing, which shouldn’t be considered that unusual, but subjectively and symbolically I think it’s pretty awesome, and if you’re looking for somewhere to start (other than the music, obviously) with EMA, this little gesture of punk rock/feminism might not be too bad. 

EMA live HFN 2011
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HFNx24

Just noticed I have twenty-four longish pieces under the ‘HFN' tag, from this year, or an average of two a month - which work as a pretty good list of the new and old (or mostly old, and EMA) music I've listened to that has made me think and write over the course of 2011:

24. Elite Gymnastics, RUIN (dubstep, relationships, the Nitelink)

23. Fugazi - ‘Cashout’ (politics, emigration, the Irish presidency)

22. Void - ‘Dehumanized’ (hardcore/chaotic emo, academia, existentialism)

21. Radio Flyer - ‘R is for Rocket’ (catharsis, emo, chillwave) 

20. Gowns - ‘Heaven’ (EMA London gig live review) 

19. Si Schroeder - ‘The Reluctant Aviator’ (depression, shoegaze, slowcore)

18. Gowns - ‘Marked’ (EMA, Latitudes Sessions, Love 666)

17. Jawbreaker - ‘Accident Prone’ (lyrics, Zen, existentialism)

16. Swing Kids - ‘Warsaw’ (Joy Division, Ian Curtis, offensiveness)

15. EMA - ‘Red Star’ (stability/fidelity, Lungfish, the blues)

14. Jawbreaker - ‘Save Your Generation’ (Zen Buddhism)

13. Hot Water Music - ‘220 Years’ (dates, revolution, breakdowns)

12. Hot Water Music - ‘Sunday Suit’ (Hot Water Music, liberalism, religion)

11. Joy Division - ‘Decades’ (dub, gothic tones, surface treble)

10. EMA - ‘Marked’ (emotion, quiet/loud dynamics)

9. Bob Dylan and the Band - ‘The Banks of the Royal Canal’ (The Auld Triangle, Irish literature, historicism)

8. Husker Du - ‘It’s Not Funny Anymore’ (Grant Hart, murder, Odd Future)

7. Grant Hart - ‘Run Run Run to the Centre Pompidou’ (architecture, genealogy)

6. Lhasa - ‘Mother Earth, Father Sky’ (screamo, Japan, concision)

5. White Ring - ‘Roses’ (Skins, dubstep)

4. Ramones  - ‘Havana Affair’, ‘Listen To My Heart’, ‘53rd & 3rd’ (punk, irony, Odd Future)

3. Ramones - ‘Beat on the Brat’ (violence, Odd Future)

2. Bouncing Souls - ‘That Song’ (punk, politics)

1. Hot Water Music - ‘True Believers’ (Bouncing Souls, anthems)

HFN 2011
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Dec 30
Permalink HFN 2011 american exceptionalism
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Dec 28
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HFN 2011 - 2: Elite Gymnastics - ‘Minneapolis Belongs to You 2’ from RUIN

see below for full post

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elite gymnastics HFN 2011
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Elite Gymnastics’ RUIN

A lyrical and musical examination in 11 bursts

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains.

My second favourite record of the year hasn’t inspired much writing in me before now, certainly not compared to EMA, but in its own way I’ve found it tremendously interesting and self-revealing. If there’s a theme to RUIN, it might be about being places and not being places: cities, relationships, paradises, any state which comes with a sense of expectation but also an unattainable, hard-to-grasp reality. The liminal structure of the music – on the margins of genres, sounding more often than not indistinct in its own skin, repeating itself and changing – reflects this profound human insecurity, but also revels in it. 

It’s hard to balance wit and seriousness because a lot of people have trouble taking in both at the same time.

The track-by-track treatment below focuses more on the lyrics in the first half, and the music in the second. Something that became apparent as I worked my way haphazardly through the record (starting with one song here, and another there, as the desire to write about something in particular took me) was that what is a very pleasant-sounding work hides a rather bleak and depressing portrayal of life. What elucidated this was, of course, the lyrics booklet, which alternates between pictures of flowers (albeit in the centrepiece mixed with cigarette stubs and a partially charred dollar bill) and stark white-on-black text.

Read More

HFN 2011 elite gymnastics HFN
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Dec 22
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HFN 2011 - 3: Tim Hecker - ‘Hatred of Music I’ from Ravedeath, 1972

The most hateful music - by which I mean a bizarre negation of quality, an odd erasure of aesthetic pleasure - I know from the past few years has been the queer pop of Animal Collective/Panda Bear. I just find it unlistenable, not because any part of is identifiably bad or even particularly annoying, if at times it does seem repetitive - but because it barely seems like music; again not because it is discordant or particularly non-conformist to some platonic structure of ‘music’, instead simply because it is a pointillist, pointless muddle of sound. Much like much of my own writing, I suppose, and it was the highest honour to be eloquently rickrolled by Karl in my guest post for his blog with AnCo’s ‘My Girls’, which I hated to have to listen to over and over again. Yet most of the people I interact with about music often seem to be fans of that band, even if I’ve never worked out why.

Possibly the answer is contained here, in this further discussion on hypnagogic pop (continuing from this post)

"… I think it’s true in a sociological sense that all music and art has the primary function of being aesthetically appealing, communicating ideas, making human bonds, etc. — innovation is a by-process that only recently seems to have attained its stand-alone value to where (and I catch myself doing this a lot) we can praise stuff that is admittedly not that good, not that emotionally or intellectually resonant, because it shakes things up. This kind of thing does seem a lot more prevalent in materially affluent societies with modern/post-modernist cultures. So, yeah, i think we’d do well to remember the original point of music and art from a sociological stance (e.g. ‘i just wanna rock out, man.’)"

Tim Hecker’s ambient distortion is in some ways the antithesis of cheerful indie or hypnagogic retro-pop: it creates a gloomy yet crystalline weight out of an abstract wall of sound - even if his previous album created a more obvious, if unreal, psychogeography, the associations remain subconscious and without open cultural referents. If Ravedeath, 1972 is, in the creator’s term, an attempt at secular church music, it is a reminder that such church music was always an attempt to transcend the profane, and the mundane, ad majorem […] gloriam. But in the end it always circles back to a humanist perspective in terms of the audience and the collective appreciation of music as a popular art, animistically worshipped as providing the spirit of life and other such slogans of entertainment politics. Arms folded or headphones on, music in the modern age has become yet another flashpoint between the individual and the group: hatred of music is hatred of both the self and other people. Which explains why I initially found this album most useful in blocking out the drunken yelpings of teenagers heading to the Wes disco of a Friday night, at the back of the bus into town; but also a pleasantly immersive soundtrack to a solitary walk in the park on a mild winter’s day, as the sun hid behind the low clouds.

animal collective electro tim hecker HFN 2011
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Dec 21
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HFN 2011 - 4: Raein - ‘Costellazione secondo le leggi del caso’, Sulla linea d’orizzonte tra questa mia vita e quella di tutti (released as free download)

Last year, when choosing Vampire Weekend’s Contra as my number one album, I wrote

"I guess you could say I’m fairly disillusioned with the state of contemporary punk and hardcore, although there is some good stuff out there and it’s not all dead, so forgive me if I put an album by an interesting indie band ahead of something with more more obvious distortion."

I’m glad to be able to put a punk/hardcore album in my top 5 this year again (if Male Bonding counted last year, which I’m happy enough it did) but largely the same problem remains. There are lots of good small bands, but there don’t seem to be many releases in the genre that really stand out and compete with the more popular forms of ‘alternative’. Maybe this is entirely solipsism on my part, due to moving out of the niche of punk blogs/websites/labels into the mishmash of Tumblr (yeah, I’m blaming you, dear follower!) and the Pitchforkian tyranny of indie is merely a chosen illusion. Yet if it is an illusion, a particularly pernicious aspect of it is the re-labelling of ‘punk’ as a derivative and accessible form of what is in reality (and if you know where to look) not a tired repetition of substandard musicianship, but a vibrant and creative exploration of sonic and cultural limits. Can the same really be said of chillwave, or the pseudocreation of the same?

There’s just a dullness to what is considered acceptable punk these days, to the detriment of making the case for the genre as an ongoing challenge to, well, acceptability. Thus this song gladly makes me want to throw my Fucked Up and Titus Andronicus records out of the window (so, uh, that’s about four in total) as alternatingly tedious and musically insipid. Especially, dear god, Fucked Up: if that’s progressive hardcore, I give up on the idea of progress. By contrast, progress is exactly what this Raein album exemplifies: adapting from several previous solid albums of frenetic Italian screamo the basic percussive sound and layering on top of it a variety of well-produced but still relatively subtle guitar and vocal flourishes. Basically, it’s what Fucked Up would do if they had any style. Instead, it’s Euroscreamo that leads the pack.

The title of this song translates as ‘Constellation following the laws of chance’, that of the album as On the horizon line between my life and that of all, and it’s followed by the track ‘Raein: rumore. Tre’ which means simply ‘Raein: noise. Three’. The translated lyric sheet gives the end of this song as:

"I found you back in the brassware of the mountain, in the compulsiveness of this prayer I only hear "let’s get lost!", 

by digging deeper and deeper with voice, I forgot where I was and where I started from, 

I remember, it was here I wanted to be.”

which is almost as impenetrable as the original, although not quite as odd as some of the translations from the Japanese in Envy’s albums. It’s pretty typical of screamo/emo even as sung by English speakers: but I guess, to take a rather blinkered cultural perspective, here its unintelligibility - which in the genre is as much aural as linguistic anyway, so one always has to at least glance at lyric sheets - gives it a quality similar to that of opera. The voice is another instrument, not just an information conduit, although even as such it primarily conveys feelings of anxiety and desperation, release and catharsis. Along with classical beauty, harmony, and the energy of several lungs shouting all at once. It is the theory and practice of punk mixed together.

120 plays
europe fucked up punk raein screamo HFN 2011
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HFN 2011: 5-8, in Order of Pitchfork Review Scores

5. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (8.8 BNM!)

I really liked the sound of this record, although I’m not sure if I have anything to say about it (UK militarism aside, which isn’t really a topic that engages me much beyond ‘should Irish people ever wear poppies?’). I rather liked White Chalk when it came out, and it was one of the first LPs I bought for my turntable. Not having anything that amounts to a parental record-collection to raid, there is something satisfyingly old-fashioned about these quite modern-sounding records. I mean, not to be ageist (or god forbid, sexist) but I am listening to a middle-aged Englishwoman, albeit performing out of an extension of a punkier past (equally I own all three Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros albums on CD).

6. Male Bonding, Endless Now (8.0)

Personally I found this a bit of a disappointment compared to their scuzzier, thrashier debut, Nothing Hurts. While Endless Now - an excellent title, matched by the frozen/fluid cover - does a nice line in recreating the poppier side of 90s punk-pop, within the artier structure of post-lo-fi, the sophomore slump definitely harshes the buzz. It just doesn’t gel together as nicely as the first record, but it is still an enjoyable enough, or at times superbly enjoyable, album to listen to. Possibly sounds better on vinyl.

7. Woods, Sun and Shade (7.9)

Another comparative disappointment this year, though not for any apparent lack of quality. Instead, it’s exactly as good as last year’s Woods record. I really like the band - another Pitchfork review called them “a bit of a litmus test … their spindly, bedhead country-folk too mellow and unfinished-sounding for some”, which is absolutely not me - but I kinda need a reason to listen to this record and not another, y’know?

8. Cian Nugent, Doubles (7.7)

This guy went to the same school as me, and now has released a two-track, full-length album of instrumental guitar, a nice evolution on his previous release of same, Childhood, Christian Lies and Slaughter. By its nature it’s not something I’d listen to that often, but it’s definitely impressive stuff.

male bonding pj harvey woods HFN 2011
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Dec 20
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HFN 2011 - 9: GPOYWV edition

the top is my Twitter profile pic, with my favourite album of 2001 (not that I was actually aware of it then) and of all time, Hot Water Music’s A Flight and A Crash; the bottom - posted previously - is of course EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints, my favourite by far of 2011 and probably up there in my current top 5 of all albums ever. yeah - I went there.

also this is apparently the year of me taking pictures of myself. with vinyl (although not in all cases).

ema hot water music HFN 2011
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