Welcome back to 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.
Difficult Fun has risen from the dead! Ya miss it? Where did you even get your hot punk tracks over the last nine months? That’s a whole human gestation cycle’s worth of nothing. Apologies for that. (That goes double if you’ve replaced your new song diet with, like, a Spotify playlist.) Nothing beats a person spilling their musical heart out onto the internet for judgment and pleasure. It’s like journeying down your favorite reddit rabbit hole, without the social punishment.
For those new to this section: welcome! Every month, I’ll pick the very best in punk and all her very many subgenres for you to listen to and impress your friends with. Difficult Fun’s definition of the genre-word is fast and loose – as stated in the very first edition of this column two years ago, there are no definitive musical histories, punk is punk, you might as well embrace the chaos before everyone’s records fail to decompose and become maggot food for the most ambitious larvae. Some of you will hate this column. Some of you will scroll through, press play on seven seconds of a new record, and form an opinion. A recent study at New York University found that most people can determine whether or not they like a song after listening to it for a few seconds – we’re talking 5, 10, even 15 – which is great, because some hardcore songs are only like 43 seconds long.
Or is that devastating? I don’t know, man. Life is long and nothing matters. What I do know is that the following 13 bands are totally deserving of your full attention…or as many seconds as you’ve got to spare.
Rodeo Boys, Home Movies
Getting Difficult Fun to sign off on a grunge-y, punky-pop, queer as fuck cowboy band signed to Don Giovanni Records? With a name like Rodeo Boys? Come on, that’s as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. (Replace that with whatever down home colloquialism you like—as long as it is clear that this record rips.) The Lansing, Mich. band does it again! “Sugar” is the first single from their DG debut, Home Movies, and I triple dog dare you to give it a single listen without scream-singing, “I’m standing in my crib / Banging my little fists / Nobody gives a shit” to yourself in the mirror.
Remember the good ol’ days of Swedish d-beat? Hardcore that takes itself extremely seriously, but like, is good enough to warrant taking itself too seriously? Boy, do we have the demo for you. Richmond, Virginia’s Ordinance. Seek your teeth into that one.
Heaven’s Gate, Heaven’s Gate
So undeniably good that Hank Shteamer at Blast Rites is into it. (I kid! But isn’t it great when the metal and punk kids can get along? Lemy died for our sins.) Heaven’s Gate is thrashing metal-punk from Tampa, Fla., courtesy of singer Tony Foresta (Municipal Waste), guitarist Mike Goo (Warthog), bassist Jeff Howe (Reversal of Man), and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz (Cannibal Corpse). In these parts, we call that a supergroup. In Florida, they probably call that, like, Tuesday.
NAG, Human Coward Coyote
Listen, this record came out in January, but Difficult Fun has been gone for almost a year—cut me some slack. Nag’s Human Coward Coyote is the center slice of a Venn Diagram where the exterior circles are “dark punk,” “darkwave,” “post-punk,” “hardcore punk.” So, you know, the intersection of everything this column is about. Give it a listen, it’ll tide you over until Gel returns.
The Tubs, Dead Meat
You know when people are really stoked on how cute a baby is, and they’re like, “I love you so much, I’m gonna eat ya!” I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: The Tubs’ Dead Meat is so good I want to eat it, puke it, eat the puke, and puke it out again. More articulate critics have compared them to Richard Thompson fronting The Feelies, which isn’t right but it isn’t totally wrong in principle, either. Let the record show that there is no-better harmony than the one on “sniveling sycophant” on “Sniveller,” and there likely won’t be another one as great all year.
Also let the record show that anglophilia gives you brain words but in this particularly jangly instance, it is totally passable. Three-fourths of the band were formerly in Joanna Gruesome.
If you thought Cocteau Twins worship was reserved for bands from Los Angeles, think again! Austin, Tx’s Blushing is My Bloody Valentine for carnivores, and we’re eating tonight, sweetie. Am I just making stuff up? Of course! Is this the best dream pop band in recent memory? Also of course! Two things can be true at once.
Fans of German post-punk would be wise to follow Phantom Records immediately—it’s how I came across Splizz’s self-titled. If this band weren’t performing in German, and if their tape didn’t kick off with some French, I’d swear it was recorded in 1980-something industrial U.K. Das ist gute scheiße! Ja!
Sial’s Sangkar is heavy-as-hell hardcore noise-y punk from Singapore, all buzzsaw blast beats and melt-your-face vocals. When the world ends in seven weeks, I hope to be listening to this, while, like, chugging beers and pissing on the graves of the men who’ve exploited me. You know, normal healthy person revenge stuff.
Dignan Porch, Electric Threads
There is a special place on earth for melodic, lo-fi, pop-y, punk-y psych, and it is probably Toulouse, France. Because that’s where Hidden Bay Records is headquartered. I don’t know what eau de bulle they’re drinking over there, but their taste is never off. Like in the case of Dignan Porch, the project of Joe Walsh and Electric Threads, his latest LP. It’s so sunshine-y, you’re going to need shades.
Tombouctou, Tricky Floors
As stated above, punk has been used very loosely in this column since Difficult Fun began—it’s more of an ethos, than anything else, and it’s probably most applicable to something like “DIY” and “hyperpop” in 2023 anyway—and it is in those instances of fluidity that music gets most exciting. Lyon/Toulouse band Tombouctou are pros at detouring: arty no-wave noise in some moments, swaggering primitive punk in others.
Crushed, Extra Life
He was in Weekend. She was in Temple of Angels. Together, they make perfect shoegaze pop/trip-hop. Can I make it any more obvious? The dreamy duo of Shaun Durkan and Bre Morell are crushed, a new Los Angeles-based project your favorite bands can’t get enough of. Get on board before you’re left behind, as they say.
It’s good crust shit. Smelly, mad-at-the-world Olympia noise. You could compare them to FRAMTID, and you wouldn’t be the first. FREE YOURSELF. HOPE IS THE ENEMY.
Margaritas Podridas, No Quiero Ser Madre
Look, you need to press play on No Quiero Ser Madre immediately. I can feel it in my mother-heckin’ bones: it’s going to be a big year for the Hermosillo, México band Margaritas Podridas. If you hold the correct opinion that Hole is a better band than Nirvana, do not finish the rest of this blurb, immediately go press play. They’re touring the Pacific Northwest with Mannequin Pussy this year, which is a double bill worth flying out for. Catch ‘em while you can.