Featured Releases: December 1, 2022

Innocent: Architects of Despair 12” (Side Two Records) After dropping two highly regarded tapes in 2017/2018, Boston’s Innocent emerges from their slumber with Architects of Despair, their vinyl debut. It’s such a Boston thing for a band to lie dormant for years then emerge, with no hype or advance notice, with a record so killer that it makes you wonder if the band has been locked in a practice space for that entire time refining and honing every detail. That’s the impression I get with Architects of Despair, which is as airtight a hardcore punk record as you’ll find. Stylistically, Innocent’s sound is rooted in, but not constrained by, Discharge, taking that band’s musical motifs and refining them into something that’s more intricate but still has all the crushing power. Take a track like “Straw Men,” for instance, which starts with a riff straight out of the early Discharge songbook but, over the course of the song’s frantic minute and a half, pokes and prods that riff like a specimen on a dissecting table, manipulating its chords and rhythms until, as a listener, you feel like you’re trapped in a building that’s collapsing around you. The vocals are also very distinctive, a bit like Tam’s high-pitched yelp in Sacrilege, but (like the music), stretched to its extremes, rendered almost avant-garde by a long delay effect. While many noisy hardcore records in this vein cultivate a sense of wild abandon, Architects of Despair sustains a seething, simmering tension, its complexity and brutality dancing on the edge of collapse, a feeling that only slightly abates on the record’s two mid-paced tracks. If you follow the output of this universe of Boston hardcore punk bands—i.e. if names like Chain Rank, Lifeless Dark, Green Beret, and Exit Order mean anything to do—you’ll want to make time for this one.

Graven Image: Discography 12” (Beach Impediment Records) Beach Impediment Records compiles the complete studio recordings of 80s Richmond, Virginia hardcore band Graven Image. The two studio sessions collected here originally appeared on the Your Skull Is My Bowl split cassette with Honor Role (1982) and the Kicked Out of the Scene 7” EP (1983), and there are a few outtakes from each session as well. Having grown up in Virginia, Graven Image has been on my radar for a very long time. I’ve always enjoyed their two releases, but this collection presents the band in the best possible light and has given me a much deeper appreciation for them. Graven Image might not have had the chops of Minor Threat or the Bad Brains, but they had some great songs, including my favorite, “My World,” which the band contributed to the We Got Power: Party or Go Home compilation, and uses one of my favorite musical tricks, the guitar hook composed entirely of harmonics (see also the Fall’s “Who Makes the Nazis”). Graven Image sound focused for a young band who didn’t seem to aspire to (or at least didn’t reach) a national level, avoiding ill-considered stylistic experimentation in favor of full-bore US-style hardcore heavy on the straight beats, power chords, and shouted vocals. Rather than just dabblers, they were key participants in the hardcore subculture, and one reason Beach Impediment’s presentation of this material so powerful is because it emphasizes how embedded Graven Image was in this world, with its expansive booklet full of flyers, photos, and other artifacts from the era. As Beach Impediment’s description states, “For admirers of early American Hardcore and not much else.”

Horrid Peace: Agony Surrounds 7” flexi (Acute Noise Manufacture) Horrid Peace is the first release by the band and label, both headquartered in the mid-Atlantic punk hotbed of Richmond, Virginia. People in the area already know the Acute Noise name from presenting numerous noisy punk gigs over the past several years, and their first foray into physical media keeps with the theme they’ve established with their gig-booking operation. Horrid Peace features a bunch of familiar Richmond faces pounding out four tracks inspired by the late 80s UK crust scene, specifically Doom. Listening to Agony Surrounds makes me wonder if they brought in Doom’s Peel Sessions and told the engineer that’s exactly what they want to sound like. They fucking nail it too, with that heavy, metallic sound that’s less about frantic riffing or big chorus hooks and more about creating this pummeling, monochromatic wall of sound that beats you in the face without letting up. Horrid Peace stays in that fist-pumping d-beat mode until slowing things down for the stomping “Human Refuse,” whose pit-clearing chug bears some resemblance to Public Acid’s moshier moments. Besides the four hot tracks, I love the packaging on Agony Surrounds, which nails the aesthetic of cult 80s Japanese hardcore flexis. Oh, and it’s limited to 250 copies, so get it while you can.

Flex TMG: Whisper Swish 12” (Domestic Departure Records) Whisper Swish, the debut vinyl from the Bay Area’s Flex TMG, comes to us courtesy of Domestic Departure, the label run by Erika from Collate. I’m a huge fan of the label’s small but excellent discography, and Flex TMG continues the hot streak. Taking inspiration from the sounds coming out of early 80s New York, Flex TMG mines artists like Liquid Liquid, ESG, and Tom Tom Club for their dance floor friendly, repetitive punk-funk grooves. While that scene is brilliant in its own right, it’s perhaps more widely known as one of the instrumental backbones of early hip-hop… see, for instance, Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines,” which samples Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern.” That sound is so baked into American culture I can’t imagine not liking it… it would be like not liking classic Motown or something. Flex TMG isn’t just a throwback, though. They make this classic sound modern, dressing up that rock-solid rhythmic backbone with synth and vocal melodies that sound more contemporary… it’s easy to imagine a track like “Come on Over (Bebé)” playing when you walk into a hip boutique or coffee shop. That might sound like a kiss of death to your average Sorry State reader, but remember this comes to us on a super underground post-punk label with five releases under their belt, all of them brilliant and with small runs and distinctive packaging (Whisper Swish included… you need to hold any Domestic Departure release in your hands to fully appreciate it). Flex TMG might be a little outside Sorry State’s usual stylistic comfort zone, but it’s a brilliant record and I urge you to check it out if the above description sounds intriguing.

Ingrates: Don’t Wanna Work 7” (No Norms Records) While I think most people associate Sorry State with 80s-inspired hardcore, I am and have always been passionate about more melodic and song-oriented 70s-style punk, a predilection you can see in the corners of the label’s discography inhabited by groups like Rough Kids, Louder, and the Number Ones. Part of the reason that style of music doesn’t get featured as much in Sorry State’s newsletter is that I’m very picky about it. When a band hits with me I fucking love them, but when they don’t, it’s a hard pass. If things are too slick or lean too far toward pop-punk, I’m out, but if a more melodic band has super raw and noisy production, more often than not that is disguising a lack of good songs and hooks. It’s a delicate balance. California’s Ingrates hit the sweet spot for me, with a gritty yet hook-laden sound that is perfect for a two-song single with eye-catching graphics. The a-side, “Don’t Wanna Work,” is the anthem, an amphetamine-fueled singalong whose chorus hook goes for the jugular while the rhythm section hits you in the ribs with a series of lightning-fast jabs. The b-side is even better, laying back behind the beat and summoning some Steve Jones by way of Johnny Thunders riffing that sounds oh so 70s. The Boys are another good point of reference. I’m always happy to make space in the 7-inch bins for killer, classic-sounding (and classic looking!) punk singles like this.

Ervin Berlin: Junior’s Got Brain Damage 7” (Total Punk Records) Total Punk resurrects this super obscure Killed by Death-era punk single from their old stomping grounds of Florida. This is bound to whet the record collector’s appetite, since the original pressing was only 200 copies and it has never been reissued or comped as far as I can tell… it’s basically an unknown record. Both songs are strong and have everything I love about KBD punk, including bargain basement production (courtesy a local country and western studio) and a twinge of goofiness (see the a-side’s title, “Junior’s Got Brain Damage”). Ervin Berlin was an experienced musician in his late 20s who was dabbling in the punk world, and these two tracks have a punksploitation feel that reminds me of the corkers compiled on the great Who’s a Punk Compilation. The thing I love about punksploitation—experienced musicians doing cheap cash-in records to capitalize on the punk “trend”—is that it’s often capable musicians and songwriters working fast and loose, which gives those records a feel that’s different from the labored-over aesthetic of most studio recordings you hear, punk included. That’s on display in spades here, and I’m thankful Total Punk has brought this obscurity to a wider audience.

Leave a comment