BLAG.

BLAG. Vol. 4 December 17, 2016 23:21

Apologies for the lag between BLAGs. I had written a piece about the gear-up to the 2016 Election, and some thoughts about what’s been going on in North Carolina’s twisted politics. However, at the time of this writing, our gubernatorial race still hasn’t quite settled.

I learned two things about writing about politics during election season: 1) whatever you write becomes obsolete tomorrow, and 2) good luck finding time to write when your media consumption level is like Homer Simpson eating doughnuts in Hell.

+•+•+ 2016 +•+•+

Seeing how this blog exists on a record shop/label’s space, it seems obligatory to post up a Best of 2016 List. Mine always feel woefully incomplete, with 2016 being no exception: newly minted fatherhood chews at my leisure time, current events dominated my commutes, and I had to lull that road rage by long, meandering treks through Fallout 4’s Wasteland (purchased a week after release, and still playing).

On the other hand, being a parent also means being anchored at home, countering indecipherable screaming with music depicting more indecipherable screaming. A couple weeks after our daughter was born, some friends dropped by on a well-being check. I chastised them for knocking instead of utilizing the doorbell. Shane got halfway through, “We didn’t want to wake the baby,” before realizing the walls were already quaking to Framtid’s Defeat of Civilization. Please note and log this “Cool Punk Dad” anecdote for when my kid decides to use my RARE OOP KBD 7”s to ice skate down the hallway.

I’m lucky enough to even remember what was released in 2016, much less rank them in some kind of top ten hierarchy, so you’ll have to make do with a list of “stuff I liked” in alphabetical order.

 

+•+•+ LONG PLAYS +•+•+

Anxiety
s/t

Textured noise riffs are a fine tightrope. Often, a band focuses so much on atmosphere, they lose whatever driving force there was behind the song. Thankfully, Glasgow’s Anxiety never lets up on the velocity with this dense offering of anarcho punk meets industrial. So here’s your stupid ambient analogy: it’s like sledding down a steep hill and feeling the ice and snow lightly sting your face. You know, that warm, tingly sensation. Then you realize someone in front of you is smashing crack pipes into their palm, so you’re really getting a dusting of glass shards and a slight buzz. This record is full of surprises like that.

 

Davidians
City Trends

To immediately contradict my anti-hierarchy talk above, City Trends tops my list as Best Album of 2016 — that Sorry State Records released it is only coincidence. Raleigh’s Davidians is 3/4s of Double Negative, with a recruitment of Twin Cities transplant Colin Swanson-White (Safewords, Voight-Kampff). 

The anticipation for the full-length was built from a couple of eps, some teaser tracks posted to their Bandcamp, and an excruciating production delay. The result is nearly twenty minutes of fully-realized, off-kilter hardcore that never bores. All the pieces careen off of each other in some backwoods drag race, leaving the listener panting to catch up. It’s some of Brian Walsby’s most nimble drum work in his storied career, and when he and Justin Gray lock in a rhythm, Swanson-White’s skittering guitar work is straight up dizzying. This barely left my turntable since its release last month.


Fury
Paramount

Upon first listen, this record has an uncanny knack for prediction. I’d think, “You know, a divebomb would be perfect right… here.” And that divebomb would happen. “The singer has to grunt before this breakdown.” UGH! Aw yeah, there it is. Paramount is almost too perfect in execution. While throwback hardcore always has problems with mimicry, and Fury are obvious well-studied Youth of Today disciples, what makes a modern interpretation stand out is added depth. Daniel called this “thoughtful hardcore,” with lyrics pulling inspiration from the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Don Delillo, raking raw, nuanced introspection on the age-old themes of classic youth crew, but that whole being mad at your best friend for stabbing you in the back thing seems kinda petty next to this.

 

Kaytranada
99.9%

I feel like there’s very specific drugs to consume to truly enjoy this record, and none of those are in my strict coffee and sleep deprivation regimen. Records this mellow tend to rely on minimalism, but the way the samples are diced here unearth something new with each listen. Even more impressive, Kaytranada’s production wizardry never flashes novelty — whether he’s working funk or letting a house beat zone out, it all fits together organically. Anyways, while you’re listening to 99.9%, definitely read the heart-rending profile The Fader did on him in the spring.

 

Konvoi
s/t

I saw Konvoi three times in 2016. Twice, I’ve gone straight home to immediately grip this release off their Bandcamp page. Twice. I wish I could say that I purchased a digital album multiple times out of drunken carelessness, but if that were the case, I would have tried to bean a member on stage with my wallet. 

Their post-punk sound is top-heavy — a tightly-wound rhythm foundation is constantly challenged by vocals and guitars that sway and leer every whichway. Sean Bos’ commanding voice wavers between cold melancholy and a sardonic sneer, punctuating every so often to vomit condensed bile into mic effects. You’d think this machine would topple, but the white noise melody and gyrating beats soar. I’ve seen Konvoi work crowds both large and small, each time winning them over into a mad frenzy.

 

Mothercountry Motherfuckers
Confidential Human Source

This record came with an 8x10 promo photo, which my cynicism defaults to a category somewhere between “lame” and “dorky.” My days in college radio meant I saw a lot of these visual pleas to get noticed. Here, the promo fits with the satirical corporate tone that surrounds this record. Upon further examination, one realizes it’s a family portrait: the band with their gear, holding up a framed photo of their late frontwoman, Sarah Kirsch, who passed away in 2012 from a rare genetic disease. It’s a gut punch. 

Sarah Kirsch left behind a legacy of incredible bands: Fuel, Pinhead Gunpowder, Torches to Rome, John Henry West, Bread and Circuits, etc. And MCMF’s live show was promising: visuals projected in the background and synchronized, Devo-inspired old man costumes, MCMF were pushing their sound past the Kirsch template of tightly wound, searing guitar fury. While sampling was a staple of 90s hardcore, these have thematic heft, woven throughout ambient compositions — indicative of the Please Inform the Captain This is a Hijack and Baader Brains material. Brass is blown a few times. Knowing this is Sarah Kirsch’s last hurrah is bittersweet listening, but it’s worse knowing that she was nowhere near done.

 

Noname
Telefone

If the wait for the Davidians LP seemed excruciating, I had kinda given up on Noname's mixtape ever coming out. After grabbing attention with her guest verse on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, came the long wait for a proper full length. She — then going by the moniker “Noname Gypsy” — would throw up a song or two on the Internet, then they’d disappear, seemly victim to an introvert’s constant doubt and anxiety at massive expectations. If you can find them, those loosies are so good. 

Telefone is a deceptive listen. On a passive level, its low-key demeanor is ripe for an easy Sunday cruise up Lake Shore Drive with the windows down. Most songs are comprised of a minimalist piano hook over a subdued beat, combined with Noname’s playful, near-lackadaisical flow. Tune your ear towards its lyrics, it’s an album of resigned fury — an anger that black female resilience shoulders in 2016. There’s heartbreak from love. There’s heartbreak from an abortion (“Bye Bye Baby”). There’s heartbreak about friends that go out into the night, and never make it back (“Casket Pretty”). Noname makes that darkness sound so effortless, and that breaks our hearts.

 

Pure Disgust
s/t

People who write about music like to debate about timeless albums: songs universally beloved enough to transcend its context. Pure Disgust wrote a timely album: a record that’s absolutely about now. Specifically, about patterns of American systemic racism gaining more visibility in the (social) media, and the dialog about Black Lives Matter. Looking back at hip hop over the past few years, one can see the growing frustration manifest into a theme that even crossed over to the mainstream. Unsurprisingly, the reaction from hardcore was largely lukewarm — I wrote a BLAG about it. Pure Disgust is one of hardcore’s only answers to BLM, with ten songs covering the modern black experience. The record reads like a catharsis, and the songs sound like they were written, marinated, and recorded in a pressure cooker. If I don’t feel that urgency when I listen to this record ten years from now, that might be a good thing.

 

Red Dons
Dead Hand of Tradition

Previously appeared in BLAG, Vol. 1.

We all know from Doug Burns’ tenure in The Observers that he can write a satisfying melodic punch. That immediacy is more elusive with Red Dons, where youthful anger is traded for anthems of alienation and the catchy stuff is woven into brooding textures. The third LP is their most thoughtful, letting the hooks take their time to breathe and build. When the tension breaks, they really shimmer. It’s also the loneliest Red Dons record, with a constant push and pull of outsider yearning vs. withdrawn introspection. With the band now scattered over three continents — given the unique populace of Vancouver, WA is its own world — one wonders if that distance translates sonically.

 

Saba
The Bucket List Project

Whereas Chicago rappers tend to spring from the South Side, boasting bars of turf wars and Twitter beef, while painting a reality as bleak as its drill beat. Saba’s from the the West Side: an equally tough Austin neighborhood, but his perspective as a gifted progeny — he graduated on a scholarship at a suburban high school at age 16 — raps of being ostracized at school for being black, and treated likewise in his own neighborhood for geeky pursuits, like Japanese animation.

Like his last mixtape, some songs feel commercially complacent, while others hit the hard edge. Its lead-off, “In Loving Memory,” is a spitfire, stream-of-consciousness tongue twister that showcases that love of language. Saba’s production has generally been soulful and ambient, with tremendous growth since the last go ‘round. Saba is at his best when he’s in his head (“American Hypnosis”). He’s got a big brain that’s hardened with burden, and as he picks at those layers of pain, that story will set him apart from other MCs.

  

Sect
s/t

Previously appeared in BLAG, Vol. 2.

This Portland/Raleigh/Toronto band would rather skip its pedigree, but that’s part of the novelty: a ridiculous sampling of ex-members includes Cursed, Left for Dead, Ruination, The Swarm, Earth Crisis, Catharsis, Undying, Racetraitor, The Kill Pill, and Fall Out Boy. Save for Chris Colohan’s instantly recognizable vocals, the rest only hints at its 1990s-era resume. Sect’s breakneck speed (at times bordering on grind) is a pleasant surprise, with the outcome being torrential, metal-tinged hardcore that sounds like what a defibrillator probably feels like (GET IT? THEY'RE OLD). 

 

Jamila Woods
HEAVN

Previously appeared in BLAG, Vol. 1.

Another Young Chicago Authors nod — not an alum, but the Associate Artistic Director. Most people are familiar with her hook on Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy,” so we know she can sing. Her tape is light and furious: beats inspired by old playground clapping games, topped with silly melodic nods to Paula Cole’s Dawson’s Creek theme and The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" deliver an aesthetic that coats the pained anger fueled by the Black Lives Matter conversation, intersectionality identity politics, and Chicago’s violence. Despite the despair, it never wallows — Woods’ strength is standing her ground and it uplifts us all.

 

+•+•+ SHORT PLAYS +•+•+

 

Anal Trump
That Makes Me Smart

People tell me — and lots of people believe this — that, in America, we have the best grindcore. Don’t let those posers tell you that the Crooked Belgium scene is worth a damn. It’s not. And I’m telling you, any band that’s gonna head overseas is gonna pay. They’re gonna pay very, very, very dearly! Sad! Let’s make Seth Putnam great again, and Rob Crow (Pinback, Goblin Cock) and Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation) are the ones to do it.

 

Bird Chest
s/t

Now, I don’t know if this is an official release, or something that leaked onto the Internets, so if the link needs to be taken down, let me know. This is 3/4s of South Carolina’s Assfactor 4, reuniting after nearly two decades to see if they still got it. They still got it.

Whereas Assfactor 4 carefully weaved melody into their chaotic sound, Bird Chest does the flip. The throat-scratching shrieking is gone, and the songs are much more tuneful, but it still rages the same inertia that made Assfactor 4 so unique. If this were a Hot Track Alert, I’d highlight “Alexander the Great” and hone in on the last 20 seconds. Bird Chest’s careening chaos culminates into a simple, but car-mosh worthy breakdown — a nice moment of contrasting conformity that’s a mic drop of an ending.

 

Blackball
s/t

Whatever Brains pushed Raleigh’s hardcore scene further into brilliant Weird, therefore the city needed a foil. We got that with Blackball, a collaboration with Richmond, VA that includes members of Skemata, Crooked Teeth, Pure Scum, and more. Sometimes, you just want a barrage of heavy riffs with Infest vocals. That is not to say this straight-forwardness is dumbed down, but smartly efficient, and delivered with such hurling impact, even The New York Times and Greil Marcus paid attention.

 

+•+•+ ET CETERA +•+•+

Assfactor 4
Unofficial ‘Discography’ (re)mastered

Assfactor 4 existed in an early 90s zeitgeist where a lot of hardcore turned introspective — a precursor to emo. Sometimes, it was conveying more complex ideas. Mostly, it was ridiculously sappy and was just a bunch of dudes sharing intense, vacant stares into the abyss that is their dickhole. Assfactor 4 was able to straddle that world by burying understated guitar melodies under raging hardcore and keeping their lyrics at a pissed off wistful. It was a beautiful balance, and pioneered a regional sound, with Rights Reserved, Cornelius, and Eagle Bravo right in their footsteps. 

Anyways, the Blogged and Quartered blog took the time and mastered the entire discography and it’s a great homage to a great Carolina band.

No Delusions documentary

My friend Don made a pretty pointed observation: If you want to see a great distillation of the personality and attitudes behind 80s hardcore and 90s hardcore, watch You Weren’t There, then follow it up with No Delusions.

-----
Vincent Chung is a designer and writer living in Raleigh, NC. He can be found at prestonandlogan.com.

 

 

 


BLAG. Vol. 3 October 19, 2016 13:17

Right after the last BLAG on “Durrrrr, Sportsball,” San Francisco 49ers back-up-but-starting-this-week-or-on-the-bubble quarterback Colin Kaepernick had to go and do the punkest thing this NFL season. Surely, you’ve seen the various hot takes from ESPN sportscasters, other players, and most likely your racist uncle who inundates your Facebook feed with right-wing birther memes.

Opinions on Kaepernick predictably sort into the reactionary, divisive rhetoric seen in today's political theater — the two mindsets are so steeped in chauvinism and lack the nuance necessary for reasonable dialog. Outside of Us vs. Them potshots, any calls for unity are tone-deaf statements that simply placate the status quo (looking at you, Seattle Seahawks — as a team, not as this individual, or this former player). Race and police brutality are complicated issues, and thoughtful musings are a rarity, as exhibited by New England Patriots’ Chris Long’s on an ESPN syndicated radio show, or a rare show of words San Antonio Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich.

My favorite take: Billy Werner noted how Kaepernick went from one of the more immature young male bravado Instagrams of sneaker collections, stylin’ outfits, and his giant pet turtle (ok, that’s pretty rad) to this simple, but potent protest. And he backed up his stance in the press with a level of articulation that certainly isn’t in his passing game. Basically, this is the last dude you’d ever expect to pull something like this.

Kaepernick’s jersey sales went through the roof. While it sounds like a joke, a very real thought crossed my mind: Do you think Jello Biafra bought one?

 


We’re only in Week 5, and Kaepernick’s protest is working: not as a catalyst for policy, but pushing a conversation that continually gets suppressed by white America. Week by week, more figures in the sports world speak on it. The topic has even crossed into the holy world of Triangle college basketball, with
Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski weighing in. Some support the exercise in a right to free speech. Others employ sanctimonious rhetoric that crosses the line between patriotism to nationalism. It’s a slow tide of progress, but steeped in the spirited dissent our Founding Fathers realized.

±‡±

We think about white supremacy in extreme circumstances: the KKK, dropping the n-bomb in a racist context, or a good ol’ family lynching. While these examples still exist today, they’re far less acceptable than back in the “good ol’ days” before “political correctness” and integrated restrooms. Again, that’s the gradual change of progress, which is great, but we know racism still exists today in more insidious ways, from structural oppression to supremacy’s more subtle symptom: privilege.

On all sides of the political spectrum, the majority of my white friends indulge in some form of white privilege, however well-meaning their intentions be. It’s rarely out of malice, and its intentions mostly naive. There’s a detachment of, “well, it doesn’t directly affect me, so it’s not my problem,” which — in its most innocent form — translates into apathy.


Likewise, we think of white supremacy within our punk underbelly as a specific subgenres: neo-Nazi oi, NSBM, hatecore, yadda yadda. Punks generally lean left, or at its most right, libertarian. The ugly side of white punk culture is ghettoized to the fringe and easily dismissed, save for the occasional ironic Skrewdriver t-shirt. But look into any crowd at a show and white males make up the majority. It’s a pretty dominating demographic.

White punks get defensive when I point this out, either that “It’s not my fault — outta my control” response, or that weird persecution complex that fuels #AllLivesMatter reactions. It’s not saying that white voices are invalid, but the overabundance of them tends to drown out others, rendering punk’s seemingly inclusiveness moot.

Watch any documentary on the subculture and punk’s lure unanimously lies in that inclusiveness and acceptance. Punk was great because you could let that freak flag fly. You could be anybody without judgement. Finding this underground world in my formative high school years was certainly an epiphany, and I spent years believing in this utopia. But, as with most Aging Punk Lessons, you eventually learn to not expect perfection from our little community. It’s a subculture, or a reflection on the grander society, but sometimes punk was just as racist as the bigger world we were trying to subvert.

In day-to-day interaction, minorities rarely speak up. Living out decades of being “put in your place” and checking “Other” in the race box makes one acutely aware of their surroundings. It’s a subdued caution catalyzed by constant assimilation, and it never feels quite right. I don’t think many of my white friends feel that on a daily basis. You learn to pick your battles, and that constant withholding grates over time.

±‡±

What helps? Listen. While listening, refrain from interjections of ifs, buts, and even ands — I know that’s hard when you’re feeling defensive in your own backyard, but just let it soak in.

Basim Usmani shares similar thoughts on navigating hardcore as a Muslim American in a New York Times opinion piece. Tangentially, the infamous Racetraitor have reunited, and Iranian American singer Mani Mostofi gives a seasoned reflection of his former self in this interview.


There’s a documentary on Netflix called
Los Punks: We Are All We Have that documents the East Los Angeles backyard show scene, a primarily Latino community.

Speaking of Latino punk scenes, one of the most legendary ones (the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago, IL) recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of Los Crudos and their influence to generations of local Hispanic bands.

A lot of this writing was spent listening to the recent Pure Disgust LP: ten righteous songs of race fury, a couple of which I posted here at thematically opportune breaks.

Raleigh artist Tyrone Demery created these Black Lives Matter / Black Flag mash-ups in a collaboration with local shop Lumina Clothing. Proceeds donated to charity. You can get one here.

The new Sect record was on my radar simply because of its Raleigh, NC connections as Jimmy Chang’s new band. They definitely got my attention when they previewed this track before the LP release date:

This song was written in Spring of 2015 in the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore Police (all 6 of whom were ultimately exonerated). As the epidemic worsened, we released this song early after the 2016 police slayings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, with the following statement:

We had reservations about posting this, not wanting it to come off as insensitive, opportune or self-serving (“Fuck this tragedy and here's a song dealing with it, Preorder Here!”) but at the same time, really wanting to post it, and right now. This is how we honestly feel, and the epitome of what this music still represents for us. It’s how we share grief and anger over such horrors, how we vent and process them personally and contribute to the greater dialogue about it publicly; we form our words and songs into a scream and let it out to join the others. So: We're putting this song up early in light of the rising death toll in one of the worst mass murders in modern western history, to help sustain the conversation and if nothing else to offer support, condolences and solidarity from our corner of the world. We stand with all victims of systematic violence, abuse and deliberate oppression.

“Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise” — Jenny Holzer

It struck me as odd. There aren’t many bands tackling this elephant in the room. Perhaps most don’t want to come across as patronizing, or don’t feel like it’s their place, or it’s just not a part of their life. That's acceptable — even admirable — but the fact that so few can is a fundamental problem.

Where punk is generally apolitical on race in America today, the sports world is having that important discussion of race. And don’t get me started on hip hop — that’s a BLAG for another day. So, when framed by Miles Raymer, punk’s on the side of history with Death Cab for Cutie-style indie rock, which is a bad look. Score one for the jocks.

Got a lead on a contemporary punk band addressing race relations? Let me know in the comments.

-----
Vincent Chung is a designer and writer living in Raleigh, North Carolina.


BLAG. Vol. 2 August 24, 2016 01:41

PREFACE

Daniel and I didn’t plan to both write about sports. We only found out while talking outside the L-Bug and Family Benefit in Richmond, VA a few weeks ago. So, appreciate this nice moment of synchronicity. We promise that we’re not using this space to air out our disagreements.

"So, which do you like better, State or Carolina?"

She was referring to the athletic rivalry between the Triangle area's two largest universities. Those who cared about such things tended to express their allegiance by wearing either Tar Heel powder blue, or Wolf Pack red, two colors that managed to look good on no one. The question of team preference was common in our part of North Carolina, and the answer supposedly spoke volumes about the kind of person you either were or hoped to become.

— David Sedaris, “Go Carolina,” from his memoir Me Talk Pretty One Day

Growing up in the Triangle, “State or Carolina?” was a playground rite of passage. After the boys and girls segregated (because cooties), it was divvied up by college basketball affiliation. Red on one side, blue on the other. After that was, “Baptist or Catholic?” Race and ethnicity weren’t even considered until years later.

Like many teens in the 1990s, I was enamored by (Carolina alum) Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls dynasty and played a lot of basketball. It wasn’t so much the competition I enjoyed, but the solitary practice of shooting. Every day, I’d square up in the driveway and shoot free throws for hours, past dusk, and well into the night.

It was a zen-like activity: bounce, bounce, swish, bounce, bounce, swish — a repetition that surely annoyed the neighbors. What probably didn’t help was the soundtrack blaring from the cassette boombox plugged into the garage. It started with West Coast rap, then to East Coast. Eventually, punk rock took over that boombox. Unlike a lot of y’all, I never went through a metal phase.

I realize now that the endless shooting around was never about honing my jumper. As the motions became instinctual, and I learned how make shots from every nuance on that inclined driveway with uneven turf stone, I zoned out. Everything became about the music. It was just me, outside, alone in that impressionable pubescent wonder, just soaking up whatever racket was coming out of that banged up noise machine.

Punks are supposed to hate jocks, and vice versa — an extension of the classic jocks vs. nerds trope popular in 1980s cinema. Spectator sports are met with indifference, or a sardonic mock-bellow of “SPORTBALL!” It’s a rejection of the macho mainstream culture that bros jock to, and it’s completely understandable. Punks eclipsed the freaks, weirdos, and whatever outsiders that went on and on about unlistenable music. Physical activity must be relegated to emotional outbursts of moshtastic angst, performed in front of a live band. Jocks are jerks who just suck. To assimilate into this world of nonconformity, I pretty much stopped shooting hoops altogether.

There’s a lot to hate about sports: any mass market entertainment oozes gross public relations residue, homer rhetoric depicts us vs. them chauvinism at its most id, the structural system that nurtures black athletes is inherently racist, the protagonists are excessively paid, and some commit egregious acts of rape, murder, and violence in their personal lives (no links because I started whittling down from a score of examples and it just got too bleak), often getting away with no more than a slap on the wrist (if you click on one link in this entire blog post, Diana Moskovitz’s exhaustively researched exposé on Greg Hardy’s domestic violence charges is some hound dog journalism). That’s just skimming the surface. Don’t get me started on owners hijacking cities for stadium subsidies, the NCAA amateur system structured as modern indentured servitude, or Curt Schilling. Ugh.

While attending NC State for college, I didn’t attend a single athletic competition, opting to venture out to Tar Heel country for house shows, or see bands at that long-gone tiny burrito joint. Living among fellow college students, the sports fandom becomes an oppressive din, which fights the contrarian in me.

You get older, and life’s edges get duller. The youthful alienation that was once embraced feels pretentious, especially at a deli when a construction worker asks you about last night’s game and you have to reply, “I don’t know — it’s not my thing, really.” Like mundane conversations about the weather, sports is an equalizer.

In 2002, I was visiting Bloomington, Indiana with a couple friends. Songs: Ohia was playing a show that night at some warehouse space with a half-pipe. It was a solo show, and Jason Molina played right in the middle of that half-pipe. At some point in the set, the Indiana Hoosiers had upset Oklahoma to advance to the NCAA Tournament finals, so the streets had filled with revelers. The crowd noise was so loud, it droned out his set and the audience was clearly agitated. At one point, Molina stopped, mid-song and said, “Oh, fuck it. GO HOOSIERS!” with a fist-pump. Maybe it was ironic, but it was cathartic. He finished out the set, and everyone ran out onto the streets to hi-five a bunch of college students and burn couches or whatever it is that corn-fed kids do when their team wins.

***

Tommy was a catalyst of a lot of my poor decisions throughout the aughts. We met down South — he of the lesser Carolina — and peppered each other’s lives until we both ended up in the Midwest. He was “gettin’ learned” in South Bend, Indiana and, understandably, crash on my couch in Chicago every weekend. Lots of nights were spent at the old Tuman’s in the Ukrainian Village, who had the Los Crudos discography on their jukebox, and we'd pester strangers for change in an attempt to play all 74 songs in a row. Sunday afternoons were recovering on the couch, and Tommy, being in the passionate throes of a Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts team, watched football.


I started reading
sports blogs. I joined a co-worker’s fantasy football league. I favorited an NFL team. I asked my partner (now wife) — a regular ESPN viewer — too many questions about today’s players. Tommy and I started skipping out on late night bars to play Madden in my living room. Around punks, I felt embarrassed over my sports fandom, until I realized that everyone else was already there.

In 2003, the Chicago Cubs made the playoffs with serious momentum behind them. There was a basement show during one of the playoff games and every few songs in the headlining band’s set, Liz Panella (of Libyans, Broken Prayer, and Earth Girls), would take the mic and update the crowd on the score — she was listening to the game on a radio walkman in the hallway. After the set, the place emptied and filled the bar the next block over to catch the last couple of innings.

I’m looking for this shirt in medium, so if anyone has a lead on one, let’s talk.

 

The Chicago punks are generally massive sports fans — there was a lot to celebrate. I lived in Chicago long enough to witness one Superbowl loss, one World Series win, and two Stanley Cup wins. The Bears in the Superbowl doesn’t count — it was laughable that they were there in the first place under Rex Grossman. Plus, Prince played that halftime show and that overshadowed everything about that game, except maybe the first play. White Sox World Series didn’t unite Chicago, as half the city roots for another team. So, that leaves the Blackhawks.

When the Chicago Blackhawks won the 2013 Stanley Cup, my wife and I were honeymooning in Canada. At our wedding, half the reception opted to watch Game 5 rather than dance to the Greatest DJ to Ever Exist. My Mom’s side of the family mostly resides in Boston, so they were Bruins fans in the lion's den of Blackhawks fervor.

Say what you will about the Bruins, but their franchise is the muse for the best sports/punk crossover to ever exist:

 


The day after Game 6, I was checking out of a Montreal record store when the clerk struck up the casual conversational gauntlet on my choices of purchase. After a beat, he asked, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No, we’re on honeymoon from Chicago.”

“Just married? Congratu- wait, Chicago?! Well, congratulations on winning Lord Stanley!” The record store clerk seemed a lot more excited about the hockey game than our recent nuptials. And more excited to talk hockey than over my dumb records. O Canada!

Weeks after our Canadian honeymoon, I was in a Dunkin Donuts line, getting my morning coffee before work. Brand new Blackhawks gear was strewn across every appendage, including a man at the end of the line, who decided to wear an Andrew Shaw jersey over his business suit. Another man got in line and called out, “Ayo! My man Shaw got the face of a killah!” then punctuated it with a Chief Keef inspired “Bang-bang!” Suit guy turned and beamed “Oh yeah, Shaw’s the man!” They clasped palms and bumped shoulders — the bro hug for strangers and acquaintances, but probably the closest those two will ever get.

That jollity reflected a city in revel. For 2010 and 2013, witnessing the Blackhawks wins was like watching Chicago — with all its class divisions and racial strife, corrupt government, and hard as nails weather — hug it out. For a brief moment, everyone exhaled and everything felt ebullient.

***

Doug pulled me aside at the back of the club. We had met, half an hour ago, through our mutual friend, Jim, who said, “Hey, Doug just moved here. You two would get along great.” Sure enough, he overheard me comparing notes with someone else about fantasy football and wanted to talk trades and stats like those losers on The League.

He had moved from Portland, where he kept his Washington Football Club fandom so close, that when his then partner (now wife) discovered his WFC trade magazines, she felt like she discovered some secret porn stash. He knew other football fans, but they kept it on the down low. Like, the kind of down low that involved hanging up the bullet belts and rocking a Marshawn Lynch jersey in the privacy of their own home.

I told him that the kids in Chicago were pretty open about spectator sports. “You know that Jim’s a lifelong Bills fan?” The band had started playing, so we closed out the conversation, and he shouted his parting words, “Listen, I don’t have many people to talk about sports with here.” His eyes darted from side to side from slight paranoia. It’s what I imagine Tim Duncan did in the Spurs locker room when he found out another teammate played Dungeons & Dragons, which probably never happened.

***

I’m still trying to figure out the Triangle. I occasionally watch Carolina Panthers games with my nerdy metalhead friend Neil, and his pal, who I think is married to someone in Future Crimes — we’ve never actually talked about music. It could be the smaller market, the Duke vs. Carolina vs. State rivalry might be too oppressive, or the Hurricanes can’t get a better franchise narrative than “Owner’s sons sue their dad.” There’s just not as much of a sports camaraderie amongst the punks.

However, most of this BLAG was written after returning from a Durham Bulls game, the local minor league team made famous by Hollywood. It was the fourth year where local indie institution, Merge Records, hosted a night. John Darnielle threw the opening pitch and William Tyler twanged the national anthem. Batters walked up to the plate to Redd Kross playing over the PA. There were $1 veggie dogs. I had fourths. It's all very surreal. My friends and I make it an annual thing, and about 80% of them don’t know — and don’t care — what’s going on in the field. It’s like going to Wrigley Field and watching Cubs fans watch the Cubs. 

 

I jeered a 6-4-3 double play by the opponents, the Norfolk Tides. My friend Jeena chirped, “Wait, Vincent. You actually follow baseball?” Busted. I mustered up something about playing when I was a kid. She wasn’t trying to embarrass me — just surprised. Maybe I should have taken a swig of my beer and yelled, “Sportbawls!” but I was having too much fun.

 

RIYL

SECT / s/t LP
This Portland/Raleigh/Toronto band would rather skip its pedigree, but that’s part of the novelty: a ridiculous sampling of ex-members includes Cursed, Left for Dead, Ruination, The Swarm, Earth Crisis, Catharsis, Undying, Racetraitor, The Kill Pill, and Fall Out Boy. Save for Chris Colohan’s instantly recognizable vocals, the rest only hints at its 1990s-era resume. Sect’s breakneck speed (at times bordering on grind) is a pleasant surprise, with the outcome being torrential, metal-tinged hardcore that sounds like what a defibrillator probably feels like (GET IT? THEY'RE OLD).

Daylight Robbery “Rememoration” video
Our little underground punk world doesn’t get many music videos, a medium with firm roots in the promotions industry. As consumerist descendents of the MTV generation, we know that — with some creative vision — a band can get an effective short film. “Rememoration,” off of Daylight Robbery’s fantastic third LP, is about bassist/vocalist Christine Wolf’s struggles with her father’s rare form of dementia and it's great.

Jered Gummere / ‘An Audio Sketchbook of Midwestern Fear’ demos
Self-described as “songs I demoed, not good enoughs, what was I thinkings, alternate versions, and so forth” from the Bare Mutants swinging ax (also see ex-The Ponys and ex-The Defilers). Perhaps Gummere is starting with the cream of the crop, but for a collection scrounged from old tapes and drives, it’s a solid collection of promise and fuzzed out experimentation here.

Annie Saunders / demos
You might know Annie Saunders from fronting Ambition Mission or This is My Fist or her current incarnation, Bullnettle. You definitely know the voice — it’s one of my favorites in punk. There’s a warm, tuneful scratchiness that’s familiar to Leatherface fans, and Saunders’ melodic inflection makes it all the more endearing. Three tracks, one’s a Therapy? cover.

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Vincent Chung is a designer and writer living in Raleigh, NC. Sometimes, when he wears his red Sorry State shirt around the Triangle, people think it’s some kind of anti-State statement.


BLAG. Vol. 1 July 26, 2016 19:30

“You know, punk died in 1991, when Nirvana sold out.”

We had been marched into a side room of the conference hall with our school portfolios, given the opportunity to receive feedback on our work from practicing design professionals, which, I’m pretty sure were there for the free booze.

Our dean asked us to look presentable: I bought new gray slacks and a blue collared button-up for the occasion, as anything else outside of my “Dickies work pants and band shirt” attire that had a collar was a little too, uh, rockabilly. Oh, and a white undershirt, too. I had never worn one before that, and was mortified to try on the shirt the night before, only to see my nipples through the cloth. I had shorn off the blue/green hair, but kept the denim jacket with the band pins. To those who knew me, I might as well have walked down that hall with a Sixpence None the Richer backing track.

The piece in discussion was a typography project, where I recreated a layout using the text from Kent McClard’s interview with Born Against in No Answers #10. “Who is Born Against?” a man in a business suit from a publishing company asked. Oh, they’re a punk band. No, no, no. Punk’s dead, he said.

I explained to him that Nirvana’s success and the resulting alternative music feeding frenzy actually created a massive vacuum in which independent labels like Dischord, Kill Rock Stars, Lookout!, Merge, Revelation, Sub Pop, and Touch & Go thrived. For every post-grunge commercial stinker like Candlebox, there were a hundred more creatively exciting bands flying under the radar. The punk bible Maximum Rock ’n Roll couldn’t thoroughly cover the underground, and the abundance of music gave way to HeartattaCk and Punk Planet as other major media outlets. Punk was prolific!

I rattled off a list of contemporary bands to prove that the broader genre of punk was still viable: Sleater-Kinney was blowing up college radio, Tragedy patches graced every crust kid’s backpack, Converge was a legitimate band in metal circles, The Dirtbombs had just put out Ultraglide in Black — easily that summer’s #1 jam, Fugazi’s still around and The Argument was one of their best, and The Rapture had signed to Sub Pop, nodding towards something big coming out of Brooklyn, but no one really knew how to describe it.

Nope. Never heard of any of ‘em. Doesn’t matter, because punk was already dead. If punk was any good, I would have heard of them by now. You should listen to good music, like Radiohead.

Time was up. My peers had gotten feedback from a dozen professionals, and I was dejectedly stuck at two. What was worse: that I barely “networked” for a job in a city I was about to move to, or tried to justify the dumb music I listen to some smegma oil salesman in a suit? It didn’t matter — a few months after I moved to Chicago, terrorists toppled the World Trade Center, rendering everything trivial and sending our nation to that very dark, existential place.

No one was hiring, so between odd jobs, I volunteered at an after school arts program called Young Chicago Authors. Kids would show up, hang out, and hone their creative writing skills instead of aimlessly meandering around the streets, and, well, you’ve seen the news. Chicago, being the birthplace of the poetry slam, means that the majority of these kids were aspiring poets — some making the lateral step to the rap game.

It’s hard to take someone seriously when they say, “I want to be a rapper.” Enough that it’s tough to not dampen one’s expectations and condescendingly write it off as “Oh, the youth of today and their silly and outrageous dreams.” Yeezy dominated the airwaves at the time as a hometown hero, yet I was fairly apathetic to him. At least he was better than P. Diddy. I found myself talking about the past, with a lot of “When I was your age, 36 Chambers came out and people were legitimately terrified of that album.” I was being that guy! Soon, I’ll be shaking my head and muttering, “Kids today…”

One afternoon, a student named Lamon caught my eye across the room. He had a devilish grin and held up his palm. Written on it was, “Life’s not a bitch / Life is a beautiful woman / You only call her a bitch because she won’t let you get that pussy.” It was one of the more memorable lines from Aesop Rock’s “Daylight” — a rapper Lamon and I were talking about the week before. Someone else was finding the good stuff in the undercurrent.

Any cynicism I carried about “the kids” completely dissipated in those YCA workshops. Those teenagers were far brighter and wittier than I ever was at their age. Maybe there’s a maturity gleaned in being raised in the inner city, or the Internet exposed them to a vast culture beyond a kid’s world, or because they were kids who were just being kids with an endless appetite and curiosity towards life. Each week, these kids were constructively critiquing each other’s art. They challenged each other in building vocabulary, twisting their inflections to alliterations, and made inside jokes into motifs to support their themes. Even if none of these kids wins the life lottery of becoming a rapper, they’ll all go on to do good things as good people. And, if this is the future of America, then the kids are going to be alright.

When talking to other over-thirty-somethings about music, you tend to get a sense of when their fertile music years stop. Responsibilities like a career, relationships, or offspring eat up that leisure time spent on shows, touring, or simply even paying attention. It’s understandable — I see it in myself often. What’s unforgivable, is the expectation that good music stops with them, and it happens a lot.

It’s a common theme that pops up in these 1980s hardcore historical reflections. There’s always a point where the talking heads start yelling at the clouds, with comments like, kids today don’t really understand how awesome the 80s were, or today’s hardcore doesn’t really speak to me, or I’m going to revive my old band and show the kids how it’s done (but play the songs at half the speed because I forgot to snort my pre-gig Viagra/crank cocktail). Respect, but talk to Boobie Miles about glory days.

When I talk about rap with friends my age, they lament at how the genre hasn’t been relevant since “the golden years.” That term eventually becoming subjective once I inquire about specifics. To some, it was Public Enemy’s reign. Or when Biggie and/or Tupac died. Or when Eminem blew up. Ah, so “the golden years” just means the period when they stopped listening.

However, no one’s ever said, “When The Roots started playing Jimmy Fallon.” I’d like to hear out that argument. Maybe it’s because contemporary hip hop is at a fruitful period right now, so when people say, “Yeah, rap hasn’t been good since Suge Knight dangled Vanilla Ice off that balcony,” I get dismayed. Specifically — out of sheer Chicago chauvinism — let me point towards a small, tightly-knit group out of the 312: Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Noname, and Saba. Diverse sounds, but they’re all connected with thoughtful, acrobatic wordplay — completely in love with language. Oh, and they’re all Young Chicago Authors alumni.

Obviously, I don’t need to tell this audience that hardcore and punk are alive and well. Throughout the early aughts, my more, uh, “uppity” friends frowned upon it. “Wait, you still go to hardcore shows? Isn’t it just recycled neanderthal music of the same bands back in our day?” Yes. No, in fact, they’re better. Also, Neanderthal rules. Of course, a lot of these same friends eventually came back around, “Have you heard this band Fucked Up on Pitchfork? Hardcore is back!”

All in, it grates me when old people dismiss the youth. There’s an easy cynicism that’s firmly rooted in nostalgia, so instead of a reflection of the times, it reveals the insecurity that this person’s best years are long behind them. It’s a rejection of progress, losing to the fear that tradition is somehow bastardized in the process. So they remain sedate.

Here’s hoping to staying curious. Every time a Sorry State Records newsletter hits my inbox, I inevitably wonder two things: 1) This is a lot of bands I know little about and 2) How much can one really write about hardcore? Click. Oh, jeepers. The kids are going to be just fine without us. Stay posi.

Notables:

Red Dons / The Dead Hand of Tradition LP
We all know from Doug Burns’ tenure in The Observers that he can write a satisfying melodic punch. That immediacy is more elusive with Red Dons, where youthful anger is traded for anthems of alienation and the catchy stuff is woven into brooding textures. The third LP is their most thoughtful, letting the hooks take their time to breathe and build. When the tension breaks, they really shimmer. It’s also the loneliest Red Dons record, with a constant push and pull of outsider yearning vs. withdrawn introspection. With the band now scattered over three continents — given the unique populace of Vancouver, WA is its own world — one wonders if that distance translates sonically.

Jamila Woods / HEAVN mixtape
Another Young Chicago Authors nod — not an alum, but the Associate Artistic Director. Most people are familiar with her hook on Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy,” so we know she can sing. Her tape is light and furious: beats inspired by old playground clapping games, topped with silly melodic nods to Paula Cole’s Dawson’s Creek theme and The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" deliver an aesthetic that coats the pained anger fueled by the Black Lives Matter conversation, intersectionality identity politics, and Chicago’s violence. Despite the despair, it never wallows — Woods’ strength is standing her ground and it uplifts us all.

Double Negative reunion
When I call out aging old punker farts lamenting the kids like it’s another bout with gout, I’m not talking about Double Negative. What I loved about -/- was that it was elder punks contributing to modern punk by not vicariously reliving old memories. They didn’t form with expectations or a sense of entitlement — just put up, shut up, and let the work speak for itself. That work was fresh and interesting, with absolutely nothing about -/- was going through the motions. They’ve reunited to play the benefit for the late Brandon Ferrell’s surviving family on August 6th in Richmond, VA. As a test run, -/- played a secret show in Raleigh, NC in their old practice space that’s set to be condemned at the end of July. Here’s some video of the test subjects with their guinea pigs.


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Welcome to BLAG. My name is Vincent Chung, a designer and writer living in Raleigh, North Carolina.