Difficult Fun: August 2021
Brooding gang chants, noisy hardcore, English wunder-fuzz—the best new punk of the month
Welcome to the latest 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.
Allow me, Captain Obvious, this one pleasure: it has come to my attention that sometimes, punk’s attraction is accessibility. Sure, “abrasion” isn’t the most alluring genre tag to people without crippling insecurities, but the fact that you can play a song with only two chords under your belt (two palm-muted chords, for the Warped Tour crowd) and that’s a song? It’s magic! Or democracy, a similarly fictitious belief.
Of course, two chords only build a foundation. In the same way that this column is far too obsessed with broadening the confines of what punk is and how that has been informed by genre perception and history, not everyone is on board with punk primitivism. And that’s their loss. But many are. I’ve noticed an increase in plain-clothes normies, much like myself, at blackened hardcore gigs. I have to wonder: What came first? The pandemic or the misery? It used to be that us critics wrote about genre-agnosticism as if it were exclusively a young person’s game. “Gen Z will save the world and put some shoegaze in their hyperpop-punk nu-metal Y2K depop music,” we think. “And the rest of us will appreciate their nondiscriminatory take from afar, holding onto the moribund belief that a single music interest can still make up an entire personality.” Whatever the case: it is fine and good to see musical barriers of entry eradicated. That, or people are really just looking for something to do. I respect it all.
But enough of that. Let’s talk about new music, eh?
Chain Cult, We’re Not Alone
If you are a SoCal pop-punk fan and/or a person who considers the Tony Hawk ProSkater soundtracks to be unimpeachable comps (if those groups meet on a Venn Diagram, they’d make a perfect circle, one completely overlapping the other) in need of a post-punk introduction, Athens, Greece’s Chain Cult is it, baby. It’s broody, melodic, and heavy on gang-chants. You’ll thank me.
Silk Leash, Waste / Hand of God
Without a doubt, there will be moments in this series where I hear an EP or tape or whatever and fail to remember the moment of discovery. Such is the case of Silk Leash: I know they are from Maryland and signed to Anathemata Editions, a private label run by Terence Hannum (Locrian/The Holy Circle). I also know that their “Waste / Hand of God” seven-inch is a sternum-shaking masterful bit of noisy hardcore, and I know that I can’t stop listening.
Mister Strange, I EP
So far, this column has neglected a huge section of the punk community: those who prefer their distorted, garage-y rock and roll in the style of, like, (Thee) Oh Sees and Ty Segall. Normally, that sound doesn’t scratch my itch – live, it can devolve into endless guitar solos, and once you hear a Tony Molina record, you understand that pithiness is close to genius. But Manchester’s Mister Strange, the self-described “wunder-fuzz” trio, have a new one out of Swedish label PNKSLM (Yung, Initiates), their I EP, and it’s perfect summertime psych: momentarily clangorous, tough around the edges, roadhouse music to the highest degree.
LYSOL, Soup for My Family LP
Seattle/Olympia punks Lysol have been beloved in their Pacific Northwest scene for a minute now (and if there is a breeding ground for more eclectic music in this country, I’ve yet to find it.) Soup for My Family is their full-length debut LP, and if you’re a fan of reverbed to hell rock n roll lyricism (yes you are), discordant garage punk (again, yes), acidic hardcore (why else are you here?), and a squalling sax (duh – and courtesy Milk Music’s Dave Harvey), then look no further. Without a doubt, this is one of the best punk releases you will hear all year.
Yee Loi, “ZWT”
Some of you will be mad to learn that the best Thin Lizzy-informed, Ramones-worship poppy-punk is being made by two Chinese/Vietnamese sisters, Rose and Matilda – aged 13 and 11, respectively – from Liverpool, England. (The band name means “two girls” in Cantonese – forthrightness is part of their charm.) Some of you will be wrong. “ZWT” is a banger – these girls have an incredible knack for harmony and structure, and I love them so much I only wish they were around when I was so young. For fans of The Linda Lindas and beyond.
Bliss Fields, Bliss Fields
Another shoegaze band? Yes, another shoegaze band – but a great one. Toronto’s Bliss Fields, formerly iris, have dropped a new, self-titled EP on Acrobat Unstable (Dogleg, I Set My Friends on Fire). The new name brought about a lineup shift, too, described to Brooklyn Vegan as “a change for us… We’re all older than we were when we started this together and want a clean slate. We used the name Iris, and it didn’t feel right, it wasn’t the same lineup. This is something fresh in our eyes, and something exciting for everyone watching and listening. No more mystery, this time we’re going to be us.” Something’s clearly working: Bliss Fields is a gorgeous run of eight songs that melds the ethereal world of dreampop with the temperature rising, metallic, post-rock guitars.
The Tubs, Names EP
It is a bit cheap to talk about the band’s musicians were in prior to their current project, but it is worth mentioning here that London’s The Tubs was founded by members of the beloved Welsh indie pop Joanna Gruesome: singer Owen Williams, guitarist George Nicholls and bassist Max Warren. (JoGru was and remains one of the greatest violent twee bands of all time, fight me.) But The Tubs are very different. I’d argue that the distorted punk of yesteryear has made room for erudite riffage and brainy jangle. Come for the imaginative cover of Felt’s The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories’ cut “Crystal Ball,” stay for the ebullient, folky post-punk.
A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to Silk Leash as Skin Leash. Maria Sherman regrets and is deeply horrified by the error. What is a skin leash, anyway?