Top Ten Records of 2015 (Reviews of Barcelona, Terry, Shopping, Firewalker &c.)

This year I’m adding to consensus with a shrug-emoji and a furrowed brow. That some of the groups who made this list were also represented last year shows that we’re in an era of bands maturing and continuing to deliver them goods. A deeply appreciated smattering of new blood also makes the cut. Not gonna talk so much facts about each one, cos you’ll get that from the more conscientious majority. You’ve heard it all before, anyway. Zoom out. What gives? Another year. We’re alive in the post-end times times, nothing fits, the clarity provided what was once a scary sense of impending doom (Remember 2000? 2008?) has softened to a dull constant thud. Drones in the air, police on the street, pig fuckers in parliament. Better hold hands. Here’s the list:

BARCELONA – Extremo Nihilismo en Barcelona MLP (La Vida es un Mus)

“Nada. Nada. Nada. Nada.” “There is no more hope for meaning. And without a doubt this is a good thing, because meaning is mortal.” Barcelona / Baudrillard. How many times have you woken up this year and wanted to stay asleep? Not to repair your body or rest your mind, lie longer with your lover or even leave reality behind, but to just remove yourself from the world altogether? Naming a group after a city was always going to invite a certain reading. Each of these seven songs throbs like a popped blister in the face of constant urban turmoil, pissing lymph in the face of the European neo-liberal consensus. This is the soundtrack to an army of punks grown to building size, mouths open, daubed with primary coloured acrylic paint, stamping down upon half-built luxury developments, crushing bailiffs, playing ping pong with government buildings. The extremities of nihilist intent should never allow us to forego a stompable beat, and the teasing drums and bass on this record often seem end mid-bar, like an army of giant booted feet dangling off a precipice. An absolute stunner.

PIG DNA – Mob Shity LP (La Vida es un Mus)

Twelve inches of ritual chaos and libidinal feedback from the little pigs that could. In the intro to last year’s list I name checked Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers, an anarchist group who called themselves a “street gang with analysis”, noting how I hoped more bands in 2015 would take up this mantle of uncompromising vision and disruptive schemes. Only Pig DNA have come close. A contextual framework for Discharge. The New Aesthetic ain’t so new anymore, but this group are poppin’ pixels to loosen their dirty arseholes, gleefully crossing the line into total noize war. It would be entirely possible for a band like this to stumble a bit, faced w the big boy 12” format, but it does not drag for a second, or turn into pastiche like many bands that worship at the altar of Kawakami can sometimes do. Somewhere in the ’90s punk-anarchy got coopted by hair-shirted wankers, but Pig DNA has officially pressed reset. No future / utopia now.

DOWNTOWN BOYS – Full Communism LP (Don Giovanni Records)

Actually, fuck. Talking of street gangs with analysis. Here’s a group whose got that vibe down so well that they almost don’t need the music. The songs would feel secondary to their clear eyed, full hearted political approach, if each one wasn’t so totally joyful, irradiating light. What Downtown Boys have clearly hit on in a way so many bands struggle with, is how to be serious and still project fun. The gang you actually wanna join. Every song on this record has a precise message about power and capital under it that resonates for a generation of punks who’ve come up through an era of unprecedented irony. Part of how you do that, it seems, is by writing screaming anthems against police brutality while naming your debut full length after a leftist internet meme, or songs that target oppression that are punctuated by a toot toot of a bright, unapologetic saxophone. Full Communism is polemic from the hips and it is so so necessary. A molotov aflame in a deep dark night already devoid of stars.

TERRY – Terry 7” (Upset the Rhythm)

Few bands produce one truly perfect song, Terry have just formed and done it, two and a half if not three times. I can’t stop, can you? This is sunny, janglin’ doldrums pop. Close mic my heart. TVPs by the sea. The three songs on this single could have been written in an afternoon, between cans of dollar beer, or crafted over months, they feel as easy and free as a smile. I suspect given the output of Terry’s attendant parts (aka members of all the best Australian bands, from Total Control to Constant Mongrel) it was probably the former, all the more a testament to the soft genius of all involved. That such warm and wide-eyed hopeful songs continue to trickle out of such a fucked continent is a message to us all. Try harder. Try Terry.

SHOPPING – Why Choose? (Fat Cat)

This band is a triforce of queerio genius, and I think this second LP would sound like this whatever had happened, but what has happened is that a lot of people have heard of them now and they have a record deal (if that’s even a thing these days) with a large indie label. This is exciting for every punk from London who’s ever danced and cried w communal joy a bit at the same time during one of Shopping’s many hundreds (literally) of gigs across this steaming turd of a capital. Diamonds in the shit. From the mirrored basement of Powerlunches (if you don’t know now you never will, and may you thank the lord for your luck, she solemnly jests) to cities across America, Shopping have managed two full lengths, which is more than most ever get to. ‘Why Choose?’ is just as much fuelled by the wild riffceptions of Rachels’ genius as ‘Consumer Complaints’ was, still an avalanche of deconstructed post punk possibility, still wrought w killer spikes of nutty perfection where vocals work as instrument (ooh-oh-ooh-oh-ooh) that still sound nothing like anything except Shopping, but this is more than a stale continuation. It’s the second coming, dickhead. Buy it now.

PIÑÉN – S/T EP (Self-released)

PIÑÉÉÉÉÉÉÉÉN. I saw this band play twice in 2015 and they absolutely blew me away both times. The first time, in a squatted underground car park in Barcelona, I had the nervous poos pre-playing so badly that I thought my hole body was about to turn inside out, so these two coming and doing the same to my brain was both terrifying and apt. I generally hate the world primitive, even when appropriate, because I think in a world of complex terror, being simple is actually really hard. Repetition as an artform. This is a set of beautiful, honest, highly evolved shouts into the abyss, flayed of fat and flesh, crucial to the future of humanity as our shameful skeletons. The screen printed sleeve and super cool booklet works to elevate this thing further, a call to arms. Liberación.

SNOB – Snob s/t (Self-released)

Another slice of the pie from London’s most productive power couples. Snob carry on where they left off after their first single, with more propulsively repulsive bass, Peni-inflected clattering drums and spooky guitar, but the production on this banger is unstoppable, and the less crowded sequencing compared to their first effort gives each song its time to shine, louder. Daniel Husayn behind the ones and twos so it’s no surprise. An interesting litter, trash, waste, refuse theme emerges from Kick the Bin and Litter Lout, showing what a civic-ly minded bunch of respectable reprobates this lot are, but Snob are the opposite of rubbish. Zing. The inchoate rage of the compassionate confronted by a world run by bad, bad, bastards. They’re also a band that plays live with a strangely placid composure that seems to belie the gruesome sonic snot that shoots out of them. For a time I used to wish they’d explode a bit more to match, but here’s the thing, which this record demonstrates, here’s a band completely in control, beyond the need for any visual distraction. Everyone is depraved inside. Here are some nasty, dark songs they wrote about horrible everyday shit. No frills, or spikes needed. Copies still around if you need it. You do.

MOZART – The Tick (Self-released)

San Francisco’s been doomed for a bloody long time. Bands operating in that locale have sometimes seemed imprisoned by their own rich history, stuck in the frame of reference, always catching themselves in the mirror, can’t quite leave the house. Marissa and co. have taken this self-reflexive puzzle, stamped on that mirror and rolled around in the shards ’til the disco ball of blood and confusion fees like a brand new subjectivity. Who cares what city this is, anyway? Peninsula of Fuckery. Claustrophobic basement screams and unrelenting one-two drums punctuate each of the seven tracks here, led by dirty, clanging ‘punch the guitar’ style riffs that recall the dark looming gravity of bands like Nog Watt, pushing them into new and unsettling alien energies. The songs never quite keep pace with expected nod-along safety, lurching around inconclusively, teaching you the fear. A testament to the weird charm of the punk demo as timeless form, a new universe to sit with every time.

SOBERANIA PERSONAL – Benditos sean muñecos que pegan (Metadona Records)

I don’t normally go in too hard with the reissues here, but this record, previously unknown to me, was on the top of my now playing pile for long enough that it warrants a mention. Soberania Personal is addictive listening! Pummelling Argentinian hardcore punk, straight forward phasey guitar fights with occasional bizarre crypto-funky bass breaks (not joking) charming pogo under suddenly bluesy solos, straight into almost Motorhead-y riffs which could approach black metal under a different production treatment. Schizophrenic, completely addictive, while invective proclamations about state suppression, political grandstanding and religious bigotry (so far as punk-level-2 Spanish allows me) grip you by the throat. A band that sounds like the thing they were into most was being a band, cramming in a hundred different ways to play, a hundred different feelings into every song, so listening in via this beautifully produced reissue is every bit infectiously fun and wild as it sounds.

FIREWALKER – Demo CS (Failure Recordings)

The first few years of my gig going life involved a hell of a lot of capital H hardcore. Had a varsity jacket and a bleach chelsea cut and was beholden to ‘truisms’ upheld by a sort of Dad’s Army of gatekeeping camo bores, older men who’d insist girls ‘look stupid moshing / just sound ‘wrong”. What I mean is that I heard Madball before I heard Crass, and I would still throw you out a window to Ball of Destruction. Feel me. As you can imagine, this demo tape from Boston’s Firewalker, fronted by a woman who sounds like an actual fucking 33rpm legit Monster, set my world alight a bit. The riffs and pace bring to mind the Raw Deal demo or a lost cut from the New Breed Comp, the lyrics, delivered Paul Bearer-style (from the throat, covered in spit) are the absolute sickest, my wet dream of feminist crew ideology “We’re half the population and we’re sicker than you / sick of all this shit that you put us through / twice as angry twice as fed up too / mentally tough twice as tight like glue.” So hard, so real. Psyched for the existence of this band and the next generation of tough birds roundly telling whoever’s doing the gatekeeping this time round to get the fuck out the way, or just laugh in their face, grab the mic, and mosh right over it.

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