It’s our Bandcamp Picks of the Week, featuring the keen experimenting post punk of the sheaves and a punk compilation benefiting SisterSong!
Various Artists – OH SCOTUS UP YOURS!
Favorite Tracks: “Dead Fetus” (Baggy Time), “No Vacancy” (Vacancy Chain), and “Sanctuary” (La Fea)”
I came of age in a golden time for punk. Not in 1977 London, 1984 Los Angeles, or even 1995 Portland/Pacific Northwest. I mean the early 2000s, when a slew of punk compilations, from PUNK-O-RAMA to ROCK AGAINST BUSH, set the world on fire. And by set the world on fire, I of course mean they channeled that societal angst and nihilism in a moderately effective direction while entertaining the snarling youths.
OH SCOTUS UP YOURS! joins that very proud tradition, and features 14 tracks to benefit SisterSong. That includes a lot of younger and/or up-and-coming acts from the Milwaukee and Chicago areas. So, does the comp stand among other dynamic releases, or is it inevitably flatter than a bad mohawk? Turns out, it’s pretty dang good (which makes benefiting a worthy cause all the more compelling). Unlike some of its “predecessors,” this comp. has a greater range of sounds, from post-punk and bits of hardcore to dance-punk and indie, which makes the 14-track effort feel all the more sonically rich and nuanced. Plus, the focus on Midwestern bands shows both the pure range of the region while taking advantage of some shared sonic/aesthetic tendencies. The end result is a truly robust affair, both personal and political in nature as it echoes timely sentiments while serving as a kind of artifact for the larger themes and moods of our pre-dystopian times. In short, it does that thing all great punk comps should: entertain, engage, and inspire (folks to raise much-needed hell).
But, as with any great comp, there’s always some notable standouts. Here they are:
Vacancy Chain, “No Vacancy”: This lo-fo, frills-free garage rock jam is both utterly removed from our political moment while still encapsulating the angst of our extra weird era.
LOL, “I’m On The Pill”: By the title alone, this sleek synth-punk jam is profoundly on the nose with its thematic intentions. Yet that doesn’t describe the sheer emotionality, humor, and understated subtext that makes this an A-1 jam.
Sly Chandeliers, “Screaming Song”: On the other hand, this song’s title doesn’t match whatsoever. But where there should be a massive cathartic release there’s just a poignant, gut-wrenching exploration of this complicated moment set to a minimalist rock soundscape.
Baggy Time, “Dead Fetus”: Sometimes it takes a deliberate, almost morose approach to cut to the heart of any issue. And this song–like an even more experimental Kimya Dawson track mixed with low-key Le Tigre–does just that with ruthless efficiency.
La Fea, “Sanctuary”: Arguably the most aggressive and chaotic track of the entire comp, it’s mostly five minutes of harsh noise and brutal percussion. But boy oh boy, is it unbelievably cathartic on almost every conceivable level.
A Final Thought: You should listen to this comp to understand both the many varied sentiments in our country right now and how art has always helped contextualize these dynamic ideas and energies. You should also buy it and/or support SisterSong just because you can. Otherwise, you’ll have failed yourself as a pop-punk adolescent.
Listen to it now over on Bandcamp.
the sheaves – EXCESS DEATH CULT TIME
Genre: Post Punk
Favorite Songs: “Good Health,” “Hit Silly”
A local clothing store used to sell stickers that read, “Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix.” And so, in early 2014, I did. When I returned in fall 2017, I wanted to explore what I’d loved about Phoenix, and that inevitably was the music. In the years I’ve spent writing about local acts, using each as a lens for dissecting this complicated metropolis, few acts have proven as singularly intriguing as the sheaves.
The Valley is no stranger to weird punk; we’re the home of everyone from the Meat Puppets to Mighty Sphincter, after all. But the band’s take, as exemplified by their new album EXCESS DEATH CULT TIME, feels different in some vital ways. “Good Health,” for instance, is like if a Donovan and a Waylon Jennings maxi-single melted atop someone’s dashboard into a hellish little ditty. “Lariat Slung” is someone making acid-jazz but giving up halfway through and just ending up with a lost NUGGETS cut. And “Situationist Maxi” would be a garage rock banger if ghosts weren’t somehow dissolving on tape.
I think the choices here go beyond a punk-ish tendency to annoy or vex listeners, or even to reference deliberately off-kilter things. Instead, I get the sense they’re making decisions that seem more random and chaotic, and in those instances, we get songs that feel all together exciting if only because of how genuinely unpredictable they are. In that sense, the band feel like the best sort of modern pioneers. Not everything is so “experimental,” though; “Saturation Induction” plays like an infectious, albeit grimy garage rock jam, with a bassline pulled from the West Coast punk canon. Same goes for “Hit Silly”: with a moment of clarity to cull some of their aural wonderings, they’ve made something that feels essential and exciting but nonetheless personal to the band’s vibes/aesthetic. Even “Puritans Ignore Them,” which blurs half-hearted experimental signatures and pacing with a genuinely solid rock song, shows that the band grasp true songwriting; they often just don’t care.
These two “speeds” make the sheaves genuinely special. They keep things up in the air (even to themselves, it might seem) because they have the collective skills to make things that are genuinely engaging and compelling. Nothing is sacred, and yet they clearly have a certain reverence for the past, and in that unlikely space they make tunes that feel old in their authority as pre-punk and still new in all the best ways. It’s a punk rock record for people who don’t give a shit about what that means, and those are the people who break real grounds sonically. The band, though, call this record “music to live, laugh, love to in the new roaring 20’s.” And they’re right–it’s 10 tracks that define punk right now by throwing out all the rules and limits and embracing something truly novel: weirdness for the sake of life-affirming beauty. I’m truly glad we all share the same hometown. Listen to it now over on Bandcamp.