Top Ten Records of 2014 (Reviews of Primetime, Total Control, Pig DNA, No Form &c.)

In the long lost 1960s, anarchist group Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker (or UAW/MF) described themselves as a ‘street gang with analysis’. To all good punk bands – make this your mandate in 2015. We do not choose to be born, but once we’re out the test tube, forming a band is strictly optional. If we do go there, squirting our terrible ideas into the hungry maw of a hydra-headed sonic mutant child, we kiss it, hug it, nurse it to its feet, only to let it suck us dry. Why? This year, more than the last few, there is a sense of critical mass, a cool avalanche of groups that seem to have thought consciously about their own formation and done something new, challenging, refreshing with punk, as a result. Bands that act like they could take over the world, or construct an entirely new one from the burning wreckage. Bands with style and substance, or proud lack of substance as timeless style. Bands with weak stomachs and cold hard stares, bands with presence, bands with leather clothing, bands with their tits out, bands from the future, bands with no predecessors, bands from space, bands with intention. For all these reasons, I’m picking ten great records, here in no order, by bands I feel are doing something right with the band-form in 2014.

PRIMETIME – s/t 7” (La Vida es un Mus)

Where else to start than with a band that formed for a ‘First Timers’ new bands gig, and then created something that has a life of its very own? Primetime’s lyrics sparkle with the recognisable dust of everyday life, evoking the dark sadism and admirable self-interest of fictional-but-so-real dreamy movie girl gang punks CeBe Barnes from Out of the Blue when she plays drums for the Pointed Sticks or Third-degree Burns of The Fabulous Stains when she’s in peak tiny-untouchable-diva-mode. It’s all self-mythology as survival, total runaway fuck-off-mum-and-dad vigour, girlhood incarnate, incongruous extra floor tom up front because everyone should have something to bang, right? The double duty drums make the whole thing thunder with an ominous grace, somehow at once both massively pop-catchy and deeply moody. Tied Down’ somehow mixes all this hedonist spirit with an undeniable almost 60s girl group-esque hook. At least one of this group would definitely piss in your cupboard at a house party. The Best.

HYSTERICS – Can’t I live? (M’ladys Records)

A important band that wound up in 2014. Proof that hardcore bands can leave a spotless legacy without ever resorting to writing an LP, this record fused the early DC spirit and sound of the Flex Your Head cohort with the crushing raw speed of Neos, piss and vinegar of Jerry’s Kids into a tornado of well-directed fury, and damn near everyone loved it. They undertook a Process of Weirding Out for the second single, as every good band should, venting out a total head fuck of explosive build ups and breakdowns. In May of this year I booked the UK part of the Hysterics tour. Both the gigs I got to see were just totally splendid, and I really liked every member of this band as a human, realising I had really just been waiting a long time to meet some women who want to talk about Biohazard with me.

LUMPY AND THE DUMPERS – Gnats in the Pisser 7” (Total Punk)

A band can be a group of people propelled by a common vision, but sometimes one person is enough, especially when that vision is SLIME. What truer goal of the punk dream than to have enough fun inside your own spiritual universe that others want to join you? Enter Lumpy. Ridiculous, stomping ‘blaauurreeghh’-along choruses, an undeniable ectoplasmic orgasm sound, raw, rough and sloppy abandon, this is single is perhaps the dumpers’ apex thus far. Saxophone!! Live, this was a close encounter with a freer kind of punk, certainly moreso than this shuttered Brit is used to. Naked bodies writhing, radiating love and filth and hope, stopping only to pogo. Punk’s boring social ladder and not-so-latent conservatism seemed almost extinct, for a second, pre-broom. All truly great groups should feel like joining a cult, and nowhere is this truer. Lumpy Forever.

PRIESTS – Bodies and Control and Money and Power 12” (Don Giovanni)

The totem of the ‘hard working band’ is one very often worshipped at, cf. Get in the Van, but very rarely is it actually lived out. Priests from Washington DC have basically been on tour since they started out, I was lucky enough to tour with them for two weeks in 2014 and their record is on this list because it is great, of course, but especially as a testament to the possibilities of Band as Live Band / Band as Performance. That is what Priests are doing. Their true (read: live) sound is more thunderous than this record implies, it is still a taut and impressive collection of caustic, politically virulent post-punk dispatches, a long time in the preparation. It is again, rare to see a band – especially one whose style doesn’t really allow for sloppy – play this hard. It all slots together perfectly every time – Katie a twisting live wire, Daniele a pummelling machine, Taylor a deep elastic throb, Gideon a smooth reverberating snake. Each element tap dances across the periodic table, becomes more than the sum of its parts, shape shifting then disappearing just before you suffocate on the fumes.

TOTAL CONTROL – Typical System LP (Iron Lung)

Oh god, it’s time to get pummelled by the In-Human League. A second LP from that shimmering far, far away galaxy of Australia, Total Control remain somehow searingly honest, light-footed, fleeting and inventive, ploughing a furrow that’s completely their own, coming off like Siekera meets the Pet Shop Boys on a particularly bleak day at the factory, when there were still factories. Typical System felt like that soundtrack to mechanised labour, flesh on the gears, the times when you’ve almost forgetten your own body, submit, submit, submit. Total Control are also that rare breed of group that have managed to achieve serious scale without any (overt, visible) kowtowing to the parasitic forces that traditionally swirl around many groups, writing records of this quality slash selling records at this volume. Whether achieving this is about being a master tactician or just saying ‘No, Thanks’ a lot, the results feel like hope for us all.

IVY – s/t 12” (Katorga Works)

How many songs have you heard this year that just won’t go away? IVY’s ‘Arch Foe’, from this 12”, was an unlikely ear worm. So fucking great. The pushed hooks of ‘Sumptuary Laws’ just about pushes it over the edge into total mayhem. Drawling unrecogniseable vocals that do their own thing sit on top of a heady mix of galloping clatter, off-kilter snarl and toppling build ups, all falling apart in a splurge of force makes IVY a brilliant listen. This group being made up of prior personnel from similarly ‘weird but catchy’ defuncto-punk gems of this decade, culled from the east (Brown Sugar) and west (Weird TV) of the USA, this level of sickness is wholly unsurprising. ‘My friends are spiritual healers.’

IN SCHOOL – Praxis of Hate (Kill Test)

New York hardcore/punk is an historically tussled-over tag that’s been given on more than one occasion to In School, who would duly laugh in the face of your civic pride, shunning any one localised label in favour of total world-conquering rage on this EP of well-directed fury that leaves me, at least, with a strange post-listen glow of hope. This was really undeniable, a very tasteful mix of everything that is great, as UK82 style d-beat drumming battles trebly and acidic riffs, with a lyrical style thats sharp and baiting the dicks of this world to meet their bloody severed end. Annihiliation over assimilation. Deeply smart punk delivered with aplomb. Smashed it mate.

NO FORM – Demo (Self Released)

A short tape released at the very beginning of the year, this newish group from the north of England, with only a demo and some comp tracks out so far are mostly making on this list because, as a live band, they were way up there. No Form are the band that has made me reconsider the band-form and its potential recently, and helped me form the lens through which I’m writing this whole list. I won’t be able to talk about them in this space next year because I’m gonna put out their record (This may be cheating, I do not care.) Four barely-adults bare all in pursuit of a higher sonic/performative plain. No Form is, in effect, a hardcore band, but void of the boring boisterous bluster attendant to most current hardcore, filtered instead through some kind of underwater death machine, pickled, dissected, and shot through with echoing trumpet noise, booming fractured vocals rendered less voice and more of a loose, textural layer breaking in and out of the music, like the incantations of a, guttural spleen-letting demon as heard from down a well. A great demo by an exciting band.

RAVIOLI ME AWAY – The Inevitable LP (Good Job Records)

Punk music made by people looking to do something more than use their band as a vehicle to cement their own punkness is a disconcertingly rare breed. RMA is another ‘create your own universe’ band, this time from London (UK’s) subterranean art world. The three people that make up this trippy triangle have made their visual appearance integral to the band, an uncanny triangle of para-squat costumed bricolage, costume, sublime genderfucking future feminism and liberation through body paint. Their cascading vocals and midi-melodies are haunting like a found-object nightmare collage, vying for space against drum machine, bass and keys, reaching and swooping with intent around every perfectly annunciated vowel. ‘Romantic Amnesia’ approaches Kate Bush-levels of shouldn’t-work-but-does-really-really-does melodic clamour, with perfectly perverse lyrics – ‘Do you remember the time we booked an AirB&B’ could be one of the most plaintively epoch-defining first lines of any song this decade. Like a lot of groups active in London right now, RMA share this skill of letting you view everyday situations and mundane subjects through a cracked lens, a broken kaleidoscope, rendering each one into something totally new and free.

PIG DNA 7” – Control You Fucker (Nightrider Records)

A new landmark in the ever-slippery Subjectivity of Fucker, I did not know too much about this band before hearing their record, a densely packed A-bomb of punk screech, their insane buzzing noize climaxing into a single groan of glory as the signifier fellates the signified, leaving only blackness and a decimated cabbage head of dead referents. All good noizy punk groups of today must know that the wheel has been reinvented so much by this point that it’s less about pushing your cart forwards than it is pissing on it with gleeful abandon, having hopefully mutated into something beyond another cyclical nostalgia – in PIG DNA’s case this is, apparently, Kawakamunism and the 420th International. Down in the dirt, shooting at the skyscrapers, grand pronouncements, obtuse sentiments, PIG DNA are being very, very sincere about your goal of the absolute annihilation of everything that earnest to ‘demolish serious culture.’ Which leaves us just where we started. Oh, you like that shit, don’t you?

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