Rigorous Institution: Cainsmarsh 12” (Black Water Records) I make no bones about loving Portland’s Rigorous Institution. I loved all three of their singles, and two of them were Record of the Week here at Sorry State. For me, Rigorous Institution is one of the most exciting and original-sounding bands in contemporary punk, and my expectations were sky high for Cainsmarsh. On the first listen, it was clear Rigorous Institution had not only met, but exceeded those expectations. Cainsmarsh does precisely what you want a band’s debut LP to do after you’ve loved their singles: it gives you a little of what you expect but expands their sound and challenges their listeners. Tracks like “Fever (City)” and “Laughter” are in line with Amebix-influenced post-apocalyptic punk of their three singles, but other songs caught me off guard. “Criminal Betrayers” channels the heavy industrial clatter of early Swans, while “Feral Dogs III (The Feral Hunt)” sounds like harsh noise or power electronics, yet still somehow carries forward Rigorous Institution’s grandiose, medieval-sounding aesthetic. Even the album’s shortest non-instrumental song, “Tempt Fate… and Win!” feels like something new and unexpected, an upbeat and triumphant punk anthem that no one but Rigorous Institution could make. My favorite track on the album, though, is “Nuclear Horses.” This song floored me the first time I listened to the album, and subsequent listens have not dulled its impact. The song’s lyrics address the domestication of horses, and the originality of the topic and the vividness with which the lyrics explore it hit so hard for me… I’m not sure if they intended “Nuclear Horses” as an animal rights song, but I’ve heard a thousand of those and few have stirred the emotions I feel when I listen to “Nuclear Horses.” During the song’s outro, where they sample sounds of horses whinnying uncomfortably, it’s all I can do not to cry. While “Nuclear Horses” is the standout for me, Rigorous Institution’s lyrics are fascinating throughout. They established their aesthetic early in their tenure as a band, channeling some period of history that might be before or after the collapse of our current civilization… or maybe that’s not what they’re doing… whatever it is, their lyrics and music have an utterly distinctive and immersive vibe that I can’t get enough of. Every lyrical topic gets filtered through this aesthetic, so a song like “Ergot,” which seems to be about heroin, feels like it’s written from the perspective of the gods scoffing at humanity’s folly. Maybe some of you won’t want to visit the world Rigorous Institution’s music transports you to—it’s fucking bleak and frightening—but few bands can send you somewhere else as effectively as Rigorous Institution can.