Do you remember punk? I don't. I remember speed metal. That became death metal,
which in turn became impossible to listen to. I remember grunge, which was a lot
like punk for a little while at least. I remember indie-rock, which had a few
punkish bands, like early Superchunk. But
I don't remember punk. I was five years old.
Like most music geeks my age, I collected punk to a certain extent. As a genre
the historical element makesit sexy, yet back in the late-80s and early-90s it
had yet to become a "classic style" (as it has in the decade past.) At the time
it also had the added advantage of being obscure yet well-documented, giving the
internal geeks in us a chance to research a bit and then revel in our "knowledge."
All of which is only tangentially relevant to this review. I seem to have fallen
into a Pitchforkian
trap, telling you more about myself than about the music I'm reviewing. Sorry
59 Times the Pain and Propaghandi are punk bands. 59 Times the Pain play a
sort of Clash-cloned punk. Propaghandi owe much more to Black Flag and the DC
hardcore scene than to first-wave British punks. But they're both as close to
punk rock bands as you're going to see these days.
Both bands inject a large dose of leftist politics into their lyrics, a tendency
that in both cases gives the vocal aspect of the songs a forceful quality. Propaghandi's
Shit C. Face (yeah, that's really the name he gives himself in the liner notes,
to go along with drummer Ass J. Hole and bassist Fuck T. Nose; I told you they
were punks) pulls his set of hyper-politicization off a bit more convincingly
than his 59 Times the Pain counterpart, Magnus Larnhed. This is mostly a function
of the fact that Face just spits his anger to the wind whereas Larnhed actually
attempts both tonality and listenability, which just serves to mark his uncomfortable
sincerity as more noticeable.
Still, you want to give credit where due, especially when the artists are so
damned intense in their delivery. You want to back down from your own cynicism
as far as possible to give a chance to people who still actually care.
The upside of both bands is that they emit a feeling that live, in person,
in a venue, they'd be much better than their respective albums would suggest.
The both seem to be artificially confined by the format of recordings. Calling
the Public further suffers from an excessive production that robs the
band of even more of what should be 59 Times the Pain's emotional push, but you
can still hear a hint of what they might sound like live. Today's Empires,
Tomorrow's Ashes doesn't make Propaghandi dig out of any artificial, production
sheen, but at the same time these Canadian social activists can't play as well
as their southern Californian counterparts, either.
In the end I'm going to give both albums 4 sponges. There's nothing on either
that's going to convert the masses, and neither really approaches the perfection
of their given form. But both represent well, and it's worth it for myself to
know that somewhere someone is still making politically pointed music based on
guitars. If you're a fan of The Clash, or perhaps more appropriately and honestly,
mid-90s era Bad Religion, pick up Calling the Public. It's worth
it for the nostalgia if nothing else. Likewise, if you get into Fugazi more than
you might want to admit (and perhaps have a bit of Chomskian anarcho-syndicalist
rhetoric running around your head), take the chance on Today's Empires,
Tomorrow's Ashes. Neither is really worth the shipping costs if you've
already had your punk rock fix, but either might provide a decent primer for someone
looking to move past Blink-182 punk styling.