American Nightmare / Pissed Jeans / Protester / Spiritual Cramp at Union Transfer
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American Nightmare are one of the most important and influential hardcore/punk bands of the last two decades. The band’s volatile mix of traditional American hardcore, English influenced attitude, and Wesley Eisold’s emotional lyrical prose set a new creative standard for the worldwide hardcore community. Their sphere of influence is far reaching, serving as the bellwether to the giants of punk (AFI, New Found Glory, etc.), metal/hardcore (Hatebreed, GlassJaw, Converge, etc.), and even mainstream music (Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, etc.).
Pissed Jeans have been making a racket for 13 years, and on their fifth album, Why Love Now, the male-fronted quartet is taking aim at the mundane discomforts of modern life—from fetish webcams to office-supply deliveries.
“Rock bands can retreat to the safety of what rock bands usually sing about. So 60 years from now, when no one has a telephone, bands will be writing songs like, ‘I’m waiting for her to call me on my telephone.’ Kids are going to be like, ‘Grandpa, tell me, what was that?’ I’d rather not shy away from talking about the internet or interactions in 2016,” says Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette.
Pissed Jeans’ gutter-scraped amalgamation of sludge, punk, noise, and bracing wit make the band—Korvette, Brad Fry (guitar), Randy Huth (bass) and Sean McGuinness (drums)—a release valve for a world where absurdity seems in a constant battle trying to outdo itself. Why Love Now picks at the bursting seams that are barely holding 21st-century life together. Take the grinding rave-up “The Bar Is Low,” which, according to Korvette, is “about how every guy seems to be revealing themselves as a shithead.
“It seems like every guy is getting outed,” Korvette continues, “across every board of entertainment and politics and music. There’s no guy that isn’t a total creep. You’re like, ‘No, he’s just a dude that hits on drunk girls and has sex with them when they’re asleep.’ Cool, he’s just an average shithead.”
The lyrics on Why Love Now are particularly pointed about gender relations and the minefield they present in 2016. “‘It’s Your Knees’ is about the endless, unrequested, commenting on if you’d fuck a girl. You know what I mean? ‘My great aunt won a cooking contest.’ ‘Oh, that’s pretty hot. I’d hit that,’” says Korvette. “It’s bizarre how guys will willingly share this stuff as if it’s always in their brains, and now it gets to come out because you’re on the internet. There’s a boldness to it now that was not maybe there before. So the premise is like, ‘Yeah, she’s hot, but her knees are weird looking. Not for me, man.’”
On “Love Without Emotion” Korvette channels Nick Cave’s more guttural side while bemoaning his detachment over cavernous guitars. The crushing “Ignorecam” twists the idea of fetish cam shows—”where the woman just ignores you and watches TV or eats macaroni and cheese or talks on the phone”—into a showcase for Korvette’s rancid yelp and his bandmates’ pummeling rock. “I love that idea of guys paying to be ignored,” says Korvette. “It seems so weird.”
As they did on their last album, 2013’s Honeys, Pissed Jeans offer a couple of “fuck that shit type songs” about the working world, with the blistering “Worldwide Marine Asset Financial Analyst” turning unwieldy job titles into sneering punk choruses and “Have You Ever Been Furniture” waving a flag for those whose job descriptions might as well be summed up by “professionally underappreciated.” And the startling “I’m A Man,” which comes at the album’s midpoint, finds author Lindsay Hunter (Ugly Girls) taking center stage, delivering a self-penned monologue of W.B. Mason-inspired erotica—office small talk about pens and coffee given just enough of a twist to expose its filthy underside, with Hunter adopting a grimacing menace that makes its depiction of curdled masculinity even more harrowing.
“Lindsay Hunter is what I would aspire for Pissed Jeans to be—just a real, ugly realness that’s shocking,” says Korvette. “Not in a, ‘I had sex with a corpse on top of a pile…’ nonsense way—actually real, shocking stuff. And she has young kids, like Pissed Jeans do. I feel a bond with her in that regard. We’re in the same camp.”
No Wave legend Lydia Lunch shacked up in Philadelphia to produce “Why Love Now” alongside local metal legend Arthur Rizk (Eternal Champion, Goat Semen). “I knew she wasn’t a traditional producer,” Korvette says of Lunch. “We wanted to mix it up a little bit. I like how she’s so cool and really intimidating. I didn’t know how it was going to work out. She ended up being so fucking awesome and crazy. She was super into it, constantly threatening to bend us over the bathtub. I’m not really sure what that entails, but I know she probably wasn’t joking.
“Arthur Rizk was the technical guru. It was a perfect combination of a technical wizard and a psychic mentor who guided the ship.”
The combination of Lunch’s spiritual guidance and Rizk’s technical prowess supercharged Pissed Jeans, and the bracing Why Love Now documents them at their grimy, grinning best. While its references may be very early-21st-century, its willingness to state its case cements it as an album in line with punk’s tradition of turning norms on their heads and shaking them loose.
“A crucial thing, I think, for being a Pissed Jeans fan is just stemming from what I would take away from punk, which is, ‘Question things and think about things,’” says Korvette. “Don’t just go to the office and get the same coffee. Don’t just wear a leather jacket and get a 40 oz. Just question yourself a little bit if you can.”
Washington, D.C. may be the birthplace of the straight edge philosophy as articulated in song, but it certainly hasn’t been the wellspring of straight edge hardcore that many would think it would be. In the nearly forty years since the term was coined Boston, Southern California, New York City, and even Cleveland and suburban New Jersey have laid claim to the mantle of straight edge hardcore mecca. All the while, D.C. would sporadically spit out a band or two, but never one able to lead the way on the national scene while maintaining the root elements of this distinct musical tradition.
Protester emerged about five years ago as a one-man-band, a study in the isolation that such a lifestyle inevitably leads to. “Hide From Reality”, their debut LP and first release as a full band, is their definitive statement as a group ready to raise the profile of D.C. hardcore to new heights. Free of the empty anthems and melodic intrusions of the worst of the genre, “Hide From Reality” is equally informed by the more nihilistic side of punk while retaining the harder edge of the fiercest in their class. With the top grade musicianship that only years on the road can bring, this record forcefully asserts their place at the top of the heap.
Spiritual Cramp comes to the Bay Area in a time of need. San Francisco has always been a haven for artists, musicians, punks & freaks. But here, in 2017, these types have become more offhand than on–lesser, as if that side of our culture has been tucked in, put to sleep. But, no matter how much polish is applied, no matter how clean they try to make it, there will always be danger in the city.
What we’ve learned from this big change is that existing in an affluent society can feel just as oppressive as living in a disadvantaged society, especially if one doesn’t fit certain criteria of the dominating class. Rock ‘n roll has always reflected disgruntled youth and its rockers often create sounds that are mimetic of their inner state–what is experienced in the day-to-day.
For their first release, rightly named Mass Hysteria, Spiritual Cramp relates this state of unease in a seemingly at ease system. The sounds borrow from the past, echoes of late 70’s, early 80’s working class rock ‘n roll / punk, which function on the upbeat, showcasing very bright guitars, yet generating darker vocal rhythms, darker patterning.
Punk music and its sensibilities are all exemplified here, just as much in the visual as in the beat. “Violence keeps me up at night,” Vocalist, Michael Bingham repeats. And later, “My friends are alright.” Much of their inspiration has stemmed from UK77, Reggae Music, DIY/ hardcore / punk culture and ethics. Most of all from artist friends in the Bay Area and simple objects we find in the streets: a broken TV, telephone wires, that seemingly unimbued message that’s written on the wall. These quieter, more subdued artifacts somehow seem to say a lot about our experience, but when taking on this music, there is an urgency that portrays life in the city, life as a punk, life as of now.
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