The cliff notes version of AANTHEMS would be that they are a duo from Vancouver, BC. They play a style of punk rock that borrows from post-hardcore, pop punk, and a little noise. They are a drummer and bassist, and they both do vocals. They will probably appeal to people who are stoked on the Latterman family of bands. But that’s dry a dry description, and also kind of boring. Let’s over-complicate things. AANTHEMS first popped up on my radar about five years ago. Their 2015 EP, Old Dogs, was a release I was really stoked on. It was a great 11 minutes of punk rock. They followed it up with another EP the year after. 2020 brings their debut full length, and it’s as solid as you would expect.
Blood Fortune is an angry record. These are songs about inequity, and the shortcomings of modern culture. These are well worn topics for a punk rock record, but goddamn do we need it right now. The vocals work especially well for that. There is a hardcore delivery to them. There is a lot of shouting, and a lot of pissed off energy. The band refers to their vocals as howling and yelling. That is very apt, and goddamn does it work. Especially given the overall sound of the music itself.
Not a lot of punk bands would base their sound entirely on bass and drums. This bands has a sound that is very heavy on the low end, but not in an oppressive way. It works so fucking well. I’m not encouraging everyone to start playing your bass like it’s a guitar, but AANTHEMS is proof that it can work. It is such a specific sound, and it really makes this record stand out. I think this record would suffer if it stuck to the traditional guitar/bass/drum set up. It would be just another melodic punk record in a world full of melodic punk records. Instead, we got a bass that propels the songs forward while the drum relentlessly drive the point home.
I’ve heard a lot of punk rock records over the years. It takes a lot to get me really invested in the genre these days. A lot of bands are content being a copy of a copy of a copy. AANTHEMS is not that kind of band. They bring an interesting sound to the table, and they fucking nail it. You wants a complex record of working class anthems, or just a great record to yell along with? This should be 100% your shit.
Early Onset Records
Some of my favorite version of punk and hardcore come from places where punk and hardcore aren’t huge. A lot of great stuff has come out of the Midwest and the South, and we don’t really give it the attention it deserves. DayWaster seems like one of those bands. My knowledge of Paducah, KY is limited to driving through it on my way to Tennessee, but I can’t imagine there being a lot of youth counterculture there.
DayWaster is a hardcore band for assholes like me who generally don’t like the genre. It’s a hardcore band made up of people who are probably too talented for the genre. Every song, even the simplest sounding ones, have some shit going on in the background that you might miss if you focus on the overall package. “DW” opens the album with an intense Dead Kennedys vibe. “Stuff The Leg” has this start/stop riff going throughout that adds a stuttering tension to the song. It’s these little things that sell the record for me. You’re expecting some by the books 4/4 bullshit, but you get these little leads and shifts that add a lot of nuance and dimension. I know that sounds like faint praise, but I don’t mean it in a condescending way. In a genre where the norm is “angry dude yelling over simple chords,” this kind of stuff stands out.
So, I mean, I don’t know. I’m definitely not the target demographic for this record. I only have a passing interest in the genre. I don’t come from a small town scene. But, despite all that, this record worked for me.
I’ve talked a lot of shit about hardcore over the years. The version of hardcore that was around when I was younger had a lot of metal and Christianity in it. Not really my thing. That old school (or whatever) kind of stuff was still right up my alley though. That said, let’s talk about Krimewatch.
Krimewatch hasn’t been releasing stuff for very long. An EP, a demo, and a full length. Their sound is reminiscent of what hardcore sounded like before the metal dudes in jerseys took over the scene. It’s the kind of hardcore that is still punk. The songs are brief and aggressive. It’s that classic piss and vinegar type stuff.
The run time for these 9 songs is about 12 minutes. The band fucking goes. Emma Hendry, Sean Joyce, and Shayne Benz play tight, aggressive punk rock in a style that has not been the style in a minute. They don’t lean to heavily on standard genre tropes. There’s no mosh part, there’s no unnecessary solos and fills. There is just bass, guitar, and drums working together as a unit. They sound so tightly wound that you feel like it could explode at any time. The speed and simplicity are a strength. Put Rhylli Ogiura’s vocals on top of everything and you’ve got a winner. In English or Japanese, she’s taking control of the sound and your attention.
There’s a lot to like about this record at the end of the day. The only complaint I can see anyone having is that, like a lot of other stuff in this genre, there can be some running together of songs. But, y’know, I’m not sure that is going to be a dealbreaker to the people who get down to this kind of thing.
Lockin’ Out Records
Middle Part is pop and noise. They are where those two sensibilities intersect. It’s weird, it’s abrasive, and it’s not for everyone. It’s really fucking good though. Let’s not bullshit around with some long write up. Middle Part is making aggressive, lo-fi music. There is a lot of noise, a lot of yelling, and a whole lot of muscle. This two piece from Harrisonburg, VA isn’t holding anything back this EP. They have a drum and a bass, but are way more than the sum of their parts.
There are a number of things this band excels at, not the least of which is the ability to make a hard left turn out of nowhere. Songs like “Dip Dip” and “Like Before” pull you in with an almost dancey, post-punk sound. The former shifts back and forth between that and a killer hardcore/noise combination. It’s disjointed and jagged, but it works. The latter is probably the most accessible song on the record, but even it plays around with time changes and styles. It’s shift is almost a pop to dirge to pop thing.
“Fight Song” is all aggression. Musically, vocally, whatever. In fact, Judy Hong’s vocals are what makes this record work for me. They can range anywhere from melodic and halting (“Like Before”) to just fucking shredded (“Fight Song” and “Dip Dip”). The vocals work so well with the distorted bass and pounding drum. The production work from Tristan O’Shea, who is the other half of the band, absolutely nails the mood of this record too.
There isn’t a whole lot more that needs to be said. If you want a record that will keep you on your toes, this is absolutely it. Check it out.
Too Far Gone Records
There is something to be said for straight ahead punk rock. It’s a style that, regardless of how much weird shit I get stoked on, will always have a place in my heart. Blame Mary is a band that just goes. No frills, no bullshit. Blame Mary’s self titled EP is very much an archetypal punk rock record in a lot of ways. It’s an encapsulation of the short/fast/loud aesthetic that this kind of music was built around. It’s literally the kind of record that you could show anyone, and they’d say “yeah, that’s a punk rock record.”
The band burns through four songs in about eight minutes. It’s there and gone, and every song has a raw intensity. Most of this stems from how it was recorded. It was recorded live in studio, and the live on the floor style works perfectly for them. How you hear it is how they play it. It’s not been produced to death.
The trio is very adept at making a well worn genre sound fresh and vital. This isn’t easy to do, especially in the world of melodic hardcore or garage punk. Blame Mary’s stated goal is to create “simple music that is raw and soulful, while keeping to a very basic set-up.” They nailed it.
Sincerity and authenticity matter. There is a lot of hubris and noise coming from bands. The music and delivery is intense as fuck, but they aren’t really saying anything. It’s a problem. Sincerity counts, everyone. This is what makes Kaji is a very compelling band. It’s what makes What Safe Means is such a promising record. They are sticking close to the genre staples in terms of sound, but they’ve got more than enough going on to be very engaging.
It’s a very good EP. It touches on a variety of topics, but it all that fall in a similar theme. It’s a record that discusses the concept of feeling safe. It’s a vulnerable record that filters the overall theme through topics like abuse, identity, and self worth. It can get a little heavy, but never overwhelmingly so. It’s not really a record that invites itself to quoting random lyrics out of context, and it’s not a record that really allows itself to be pigeonholed when it comes to content. This is an absolute strength if ever there was one. It shows that Kaji have made a singular piece instead of some random collection of songs.
It is, on the other hand, very easy to discuss from a musical standpoint. It definitely excels in the realm of post-hardcore. It also has a fair amount of a screamo influence as well. It’s really not hitting all the genre touchstones of the latter, but it has enough for it to be an apt description. The music is heavy, the vocals are forceful, and everything has a lot of muscle behind it. There is something here for anyone who enjoys music under the greater umbrella of hardcore and punk.
It would be easy to overhype things here, but I’m not going to bullshit you. This is an EP that is worth your attention. It has a lot of heart. It has a lot of passion. And, ultimately, it’s worth a listen based on that alone.
I feel a bit like a broken record sometimes. I constantly bring up home much I hate throwing bands into genres, but then spend much of every review talking about what genre a band is. It feels a bit disingenuous to me. Sloths, for example, are very definitely a number of things. To pigeonhole them as one thing or the other seems like bullshit.
Sloths are rooted very strongly in heavy music. There is guitar that can jump from swirling, to melodic, to driving, to almost noise. The bass is riffing rather than just a generic, supporting bassline. Both are distorted and raw. The drums throw some d-beats and blast beats into the fold, but also keep things very tight. The vocals are fucking growling. They’re that kind of vocal that just adds to the shredding, jagged nature of the music. It’s hardcore and metal, both the traditional and the “post-” variations. It still has a strong sense of melody as well. It’s a lot at once, and it all adds up to a very engaging band and record.
And, ultimately, that is what we’re here to talk about. Twenty Years is a beast of an EP. These are three songs that get shredded through in about 13 minutes. They are far more than the sum of their parts though. To give a song number/record length analysis wouldn’t be fair. It’s not fair because this EP is difficult in a lot of ways. It’s a dark record, both in topic and tone. The record is about the death of a friend, and the aftermath if it. The subject of dying young is always a difficult topic to write about and listen to. It’s not entirely bleak though. Eventually there is a small bit of acceptance and perspective.
It’s the two sides of things that make this record engaging as a piece of music, and as an piece of expression in general. The music gets fucking heavy. It gets raw. It also gets melodic and light in some places. That dark and light combination is also there lyrically in a certain degree as well. Sloths have, on Twenty Years, made an EP that is entirely cohesive from front to back. The words, the music, and everything. It’s one of those records that is one entire piece, rather than small pieces thrown together.
The Ghost Is Clear Records
Don’t Live Like Me Records
**This is digital only at this time. Physical pre-orders should go up this month**