Difficult Fun: July 2021’s Best Punk
Addictive anarcho-punk, black metal, an anti-fascist comp, and an album of the year contender
Welcome to the fourth edition of Difficult Fun! Each month, SPIN will spotlight the best punk on the planet and discuss it here, with the ambition of challenging preconceived notions of what the four-letter word actually means and, ideally, entertaining readers in the process. Purists, piss off! Everyone else, enjoy.
Apathy is one hell of a drug. Live shows are back, the COVID-19 Delta variant is wreaking havoc across the globe, infections are climbing, and if there was ever a time to lean into easy, convenient nihilism, our current sci-fi dystopia is it. And yet, I’ve noticed a sense of optimism in punk – there might be no future but let’s fight for the present – and it is energizing.
Or, you know, the world is still full of shit and I’m simply projecting, but this is my column and I’ll cry if I want to. Genre is dead, anyway, and this month, Difficult Fun is all over the place.
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, Marriage License
Daegu, South Korean band Drinking Boys and Girls Choir have a knack for capturing the thrill and sting of youthful exuberance, so don’t resist their charms. Their sophomore album, Marriage License, recalls dream pop and ‘90s Southern California poppy punk rock in equal parts without feeling particularly derivative—such is the pleasure of their expert melodicism. According to Bandcamp, their sophomore LP questions gender roles and patriarchal rules, and expresses “outrage at the Nth Room Case,” an online sex crime where 74 victims, including underage girls, were coerced into uploading explicit images of themselves to chatrooms—what many in South Korea considered to be a form of modern slavery. Outrage is evident on furious tracks “Attention,” “Hit the Corner,” and “I am not a machine,” but the sense of urgency exists throughout. It’s early to call it, but this may very well be an album of the year contender.
Porvenir Oscuro, “Asquerosa Humanidad”
New York’s Porvenir Oscuro have mastered addictive anarcho-punk, so, naturally, their first full length, Asquerosa Humanidad, is 25 minutes of canorous hardcore. (None of the fire from their early Cocadictos / Ultimo Resorte influence has been lost, either, so don’t worry your pretty little head.) Discontent drips from every piercing riff – they’re angry at the world, at cops, at politicians, at humanity, at the voices in their head – and who could blame them? Shit is bad! At least they sound so good.
Vancouver’s Bootlicker have been in the hardcore punk scene for a minute, dropping a handful of EPs and demos, and yet, this self-titled release is their first full-length. (Also, it came out in late June, but who’s counting?) Bootlicker was worth the wait (plus, some members were spending time in the garage punk band Headcheese, who are also worth your time and financial support.) The ‘80s punk influence is alive and well: there’s Discharge’s D-Beat here (courtesy Lucas Treadwell’s onerous drum fills) and litany of SSD references, but they’re so much more than the sum of those inspirations ornamented with mid-tempo polish. Turn it on and turn it up loud.
Frankie Rose, Seventeen Seconds
This addition is where the purists should log off or click away, but I dare you to enjoy some good tunes for the sake of it being, well, good. Frankie Rose – the dream-pop savant, formerly of Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls and Beverly – has released a cover album where she tackles all of The Cure’s 1980 album Seventeen Seconds. Originally released as part of Record Store Day 2021, the album is less revisionist history and more like a direct celebration of an already perfect goth pop record. In another phrase – she doesn’t try to fix what ain’t broke. Rose doesn’t attempt to feign her own Robert Smith brood, either. Instead, her idiosyncratic voice brings new whimsy to the performance. It’s glorious.
CEMENTO, Killing Life
People have been writing about Los Angeles’ killer post-punk and deathrock scene for years now, so I’ll try to bypass any easy trendsetting and leave you with this: Cemento (members of SMUT, SMIRK) are professionals at crafting delicious bummer sounds – danceable, depressive fun, just melodic enough to sing along to (and with an Iron Lung Records co-sign, you better believe it’s tight.) Dive into the deep end and try to remember what it was like to waltz into a smoke-filled goth club late at night. We were all so young once.
Branca Studio’s Antifascist Black Metal Vol. 6
With acts like Heavenfield and Irrtum, the latest Anti-Fascist comp from Branca Studio is more black metal than punk, and could sit happily next to many of the titles my good friend Andy O’Connor writes about in his Blast Rites column for this very publication. But come on, man, where’s the fun in that? There are tons of blackened punk bands present – including an absolutely scorcher from Difficult Fun favorites Melissa – and who could pass up the raw, vampiric doom of Cultum Draculesti? Or the punishing black metal of Bandung, Indonesia band Warkvlt? Or a release of this iron-hot, all in the name of anti-fascism? As it has been said before and should be said again: Nazis fuck off, everyone else, stream away.