Top Ten Records of 2016 (Reviews of In School, CC Dust, Scrap Brain, Flasher &c.)

IN SCHOOL – Cement Fucker 7” (Thrilling Living)

A tasteful reminder that the hardcore 7” is a classic, unfuckwithable format. In School turn the crosshairs on scum on this, their second single which builds on the first but pulls, if this is somehow possible, even less punches than the first. This is retributive, zero clemency, no-country-for-bold-men hardcore. Get it or get out.

ES – Object Relations 12” (La Vida Es un Mus)

Soundtracking the cold hard edges in an economy of dread, Es is named for “the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learnt from our study of the dreamwork, and of course the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego … It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.” Yeah, makes sense. When all we have is our proclamations, you need no reminder to project your voice.

CC DUST – S/T 12” (Perennial)

In April of this year I watched two women-geniuses meet for the first time, gesticulating wildly, spilling gin on the cobblestones, shouting about Hegel. One thing they both agreed on was that punk’s only real political power lies in its ability to assist in the creation and sustenance of (as one of them put it with a type of rare certainty, making each word count) ‘Temporary. Contingent. Utopias.’ The other one, Mary Jane, wrote ‘Never Going to Die’, which is of course the soundtrack playing in every one of said TCOs. The last time I saw a dance party erupt post-gig, this was playing and everyone was holding each other. Performing like she’s carefully and deliberately breaching a restraining order, this crypto-choreography is one of a kind, backed with enough force to, as I witnessed, knock a bass head from an amp with a perfect concrete pirouette. The rest of this record does not try to trade in the same euphoria of that song, a cast-iron anthem of arpeggiated hope in and of itself. It instead does good work mining sad depths, lucid dreams, dark highs. We might, after all, escape.

RAVIOLI ME AWAY – Living is a Myth LP (Upset The Rhythm)

I rarely quote myself (who am I kidding my life is a constant repetition of bad memes) but I will say this, RMA is still “an uncanny triangle of para-squat costumed bricolage, costume, sublime genderfuckery, future feminism and liberation through body paint.” I said that about their first LP and it honestly holds for their second, late in the day in 2016 but it makes the cut because so few groups as still this ideas-heavy, fun and terrifying at the same time. Midi-jerk rhythms, no binary all finery. Check out the song ‘Holy Eyes’ if you don’t believe me. They have added another member for this record yet somehow subverted geometry and kept very triangular. Typical.

CHROMA – 12” (Hysteria Records)

Okay maybe this is a cuspy between the years jam? But actually, given that Chroma transcends the Gregorian calendar and bourgeois concepts of time in favour of new proletarian-power forms, we can and should still applaud it, unless you want to feel the barrel in the back of your neck. The means of production of this scraping, elastic punk junk box is three woman-cogs crunching into each other in a perfect rhythm, having done time in Rakta, Siega and many other great groups of these awful ‘oughts and ‘tens.. ‘En la fabrica, en la clinica!’ wails Rebe. We are everywhere.

FLASHER – S/T EP (Sister Polygon)

Flasher’s EP is cloudy like a set of big warm questions, envelope choruses, guitars fuzzed and layered up like an outfit made of scarves that shouldn’t really work but do. You’re hot. Each song does something different, with an affirmative buzz and curl, shared-sung vocals. I’ll lay it straight, I don’t listen to much music that sounds like this, but I have a feeling that’s more because there really isn’t much that does. The vocals run through snagging sets of dialectics, sharper than ever in a time of extreme questions. ‘I’ll erase myself / to release myself’ sounds like a plan, but then again ‘is this becoming? / or am I succumbing?’ Some things really are black and white, for everything else, there’s Flasher.

THE LOWEST FORM – Personal Space LP (Harbinger Sound)

What does it mean to be damaged? Who are you going to ask for help in a city that laughs at your pain? Who gives a fuck?

TOL – s/t 7” (No Patience)

I came upon this band (no, not like that) during the first few months of orientation after my big move to the world’s friendliest genocidal settler-colony earlier this year. I was working manual labour on farms and occasionally making into a city to see music, whilst also grappling with a strange sense that I might have outgrown hardcore punk. Nothing stuck until TOL live, a timely and strangely calming reminder that no, the growth was still there, bigger and uglier, gnarled and tumescent, and that indeed it is possible to age and feed off some other aspect of the heaving beast we call hardcore, as best it suits. This is menacing, propulsive and harmful music, recalling without any ostentation something like Mecht Mensch meets Amebix in a hot squat. On record they are thankfully also absolutely savage.

SCRAP BRAIN – Demo CS (Self-Released)

SCRAP BRAIN (alongside London, UK contemporaries like SHECKET, SCORE and PINKGRIP) are doing a sterling job soundtracking the late stages of the sinking of yet another broken capital. Four songs of noisy, reckless and disassociative snarling incite the end, with nothing much over two minutes because frankly who has time for that? Maudlin, petty and bitter, what I like about this in particular is the space allowed between elements, cliffhanger bass riffs that breathe smog into the air above cymbals, guitars ferreting in and out of focus, no mercy for fence-sitters, it’s evocative and yet not always serious. Strange and dragging refrains bleed into pseudo-in jokes – ‘Take a sad song and make it hardcore’ goes one of them, borrowing from a Rave-era Happy Hardcore repurposing, proto-mashup of The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’, just by way of an example. I want to note that I recorded and mixed this but to be honest it’s less of a full-disclosure manoeuvre, than a pathetic scrambling towards any kind of association with this great new group.

SARCASM – Total Institution CS (Far so Far)

Lights out at the institution. A tasty platter of mealy-mouthed diatribes from London’s Sarcasm demonstrate the model of ‘punk band as necessary pressure valve against increasingly impossible urban existence’ but you know, very polite about it while blood vessels burst in eyes in quiet frustration. Spare, unwelcoming but eminently listenable, with nods to UKDIY archness filtering through as Luke counts down the train stops on the northern line, parts of the city no tourist would visit: ‘Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway.’ 2017 will bring forth a 7”, stay vigilant.


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