2. We’re Not Evolved
4. Nice Guy
5. White Men
6. Rinse And Repeat
7. The City is Dead
8. Glass House
9. One Man Terror Dance
12. Lambrini Anarchist
Political bands. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they’ve got an important role to play in the world because they have the ability to wield their words and beliefs about a cause with passion and anger and deftly weave it into their songs, inspiring their listeners to think along similar lines and motivating them to action. In the decades following the ‘flower power’ movement of the 1960’s, legions of young people have used the medium of music to protest, with the most notable of these movements arguably being the vibrant Punk explosion of the late 1970’s, which saw gaggles of alarmingly attired youths aggressively take aim at the establishment with three-chord riffs and scathing lyrics spewed forth in a snarling, sneering fashion. From the 80's onwards, there remained a steady flow of politically-motivated bands such as The Smiths, The Manic Street Preachers and Rage Against the Machine, who were all able to successfully translate their political opinions into music, but from the end of the noughties onwards, such politically-themed bands seemed to vanish from popular music in the UK, leaving a whole generation without any form of popular political music for them to get behind.
Post-Grenfell however, there was a seismic change in this and we saw artists like Stormzy and Dizzee Rascal transform the Grime scene into a politically-motivated movement that, like Punk, took aim at the establishment. If you take a listen to some Grime music however, you’ll notice that it’s very different in its execution and delivery to Punk, but you’d be hard-pressed to disagree that it bears similar hallmarks. For those not fond of Grime's electronic throb and soap-box rapping however, there was very little in the way of popular Rock or Metal music that was doing anything similar, but this soon started to change with the arrival of bands like Art-Punk media darlings Idles, who heralded a fresh wave of bands who were burgeoning to have their political opinions heard.
Along with this new wave of bands arrived Austerity, a three piece outfit from Brighton comprising of Thomas Vincent on Vocals & Guitar; Stu Chaney on Bass & Vocals and Sam Luck on Drums & Percussion. They describe themselves as an ‘anarcho-feminist Post-Punk band’, which sounds a tad pretentious to me and that “Anarcho Punk Dance Party”, the name of the album, didn't particularly encourage me to listen to it - but since I’m not one to draw conclusions on a band before I’ve heard them, I decided to give their album the 'suck it and see' treatment to see if they really did make me want to dance, party or agree with their viewpoints.
Kicking off with a track titled ‘Aaaaaaaaarrrrrghhh’, the album starts with the band ranting about capitalism and consumerism against the sound of feedback, discordant bass and guitar fuzz. I'll be honest when I say that I grimaced when I heard it for the first time and, simply for the purposes of writing this review, I’ve heard it several times now and I’ve found it difficult to prevent my face from settling into that same grimace each time. To compound things, the track weighs in at almost three minutes long and seriously outstays its welcome as a result. I do get it though; Austerity are clearly coming out of the starting blocks with the intention of establishing themselves as a political band, and while I have no doubt that they succeed in achieving that, it feels like the audio equivalent of using a crowbar to open a milk carton. It does end with a positive message though, with the phrases 'Seize the initiative' and 'Hope is returning' being yelled against a crescendo of distortion. We hear ya, lads. We hear ya.
After the intro track is out of the way, it’s straight into the music as a clatter of drums marks the beginning of 'We're Not Evolved', which after said clattering quickly breaks into a full-tilt bass-driven riff that has a frantic, unrestrained quality to it that's immediately infectious and fun. When Vincent’s vocals came piping through my speakers for the first time, his voice reminded me of several bands from the Punk/New Wave era and I keep hearing Hugh Cornwell from The Stranglers in his voice, which is definitely a good thing. The song (or at least how I’m interpreting it) is a dig at the fact that although humanity considers itself intelligent, there’s still a huge amount of stupidity going on, with Vincent singing ‘Mass immigration / The rolling news / Mass Immigration / The world wide web’ before screaming the track’s title repetitively. The way that the closing lyrics are delivered is very similar to the way that Joe Talbot sings the closing lyrics of ‘Great’ by Idles - whether this is intentional or not is up for debate, but it's a good track to kick the album off with.
With a touch of flanged bass and a sprinkle of strangled saxophone, ‘Occupation’ comes barging into the room and it’s this at this point where it becomes clear as to why the band put the words ‘dance’ and ‘party’ in the album’s title, because they’re clearly adept at putting together riffs and beats that are eminently danceable, with Vincent and Chaney forming a tight-sounding guitar and bass riff which is perfectly complemented by Luck’s crack-shot tub-thumping. Vincent’s vocals are delivered confidently, with comedic-sounding drawls and amusing affectations that make the song fun to listen to. The song has a political edge to it of course, with lyrics such as ‘You build a wall / You bomb the school / You broke up the peace treaty / Where’s your solidarity?’ taking a pop at the Trump administration and his/its questionable approach to international protocol. This is easily one of the best tracks on the album, in which the band make their raison d’etre crystal clear and also cunningly manage to get you to bob your head and tap your feet while they do so. Following on from that, ‘Nice Guy’ starts with a juicy bassline from Chaney before Luck breaks into a clean-sounding beat while Vincent pipes over it with his quirky, affected manner and him aping the inflection style that many of the original UK Punk bands put into their vocals. The subject of the song is about the excuses made by the friends of entitled and privileged men who treat women like shit, sexually abuse them and actually think that they can get away with it, with the chorus repeating 'We know you're not a rapist mate / you tell yourself that'. The song descends into a chaotic, noisy beast towards its end with the band sounding genuinely angry-sounding and it’s one track in which I’m in total agreement with them.
As is evident by its title, the track 'White Men' tackles the odious subject of racism - something that’s seen a huge uptick since the Brexit referendum of 2016 here in the UK and over the pond in the US since the feckless tangerine buffoon was put in charge. The song kicks off at a brisk pace with a driving bassline from Chaney powering the song alongside Luck's solid drumming and stick-work. This is possibly my favourite track on the album as it feels the most cohesive, with the tootlings of a saxophone aiding the band and giving the track a really cool sound. It builds into a raucous, unhinged noise towards its close, with the band once again sounding furious. The opening of 'Rinse And Repeat' follows that, sounding like it's going to break into a dance beat before abruptly changing direction and settling into something a bit more laid back. The theme of this track is consumerism, with vocals delivered in a comedic manner by Vincent as he says 'Buy my product / I made it just for you / everyone else too, but especially for you' and the band roisterously yelling 'Buy something / Feel Better / Do it again' during the chorus. There's not really much else to it, but it's a fun and catchy little number that's memorable mostly due to Vincent's amusing vocals.
Up next,‘The City Is Dead’ hits the deck running and attacks your ears with machine-gun drumming from Luck and a throbbing bassline from Chaney. It’s a short and rowdy track with a fairly ambiguous subject matter as Vincent yells ‘The city is dead and so are we’ along to some fuzzy guitar, but there’s not much else I can think to say about it. It leads into another nice bassline as ‘Glass House’ begins, which is another ambiguous track in terms of its subject matter, but I’m going to guess that it’s tackling the subject of whistle-blowing and companies spying on their employees, or something. Whatever the case, this is one of the most bruising tracks on the album, with the band sounding tighter than a gnat’s arse in terms of their playing. It’s fairly light in terms of it’s lyrical content though, as the band let the music do most of the talking with an infectious, brutal and heavy sound that’s driven by an excellent bassline and superb drumming.
With an opening melody that sounds vaguely similar to the opening of The Stranglers ‘Peaches’, ‘One Man Terror Dance’ is a bit of a pacifist’s anthem as it concerns the violence inflicted on countries (i.e. Syria, Iraq, etc.) by western nations and how they seem surprised when these countries aggressively retaliate. It’s another track that’s driven primarily by Chaney’s bass and features vocals that are sarcastically delivered by Vincent as he sneers ‘When we bleed we bleed / We all bleed the same / Led by crooks and thieves / Under Tory Reign’ and culminates with ‘Our wars are coming home / We threw the first stone’ during the song’s chorus. It’s a standout track which shows just how powerful Austerity can be when they pull the stops out, and they sound brilliantly tight and fizzy here.
With a much slower intro, ‘Herded’ lulls you into a false sense of security as it initially sounds like it’s going to be a slow track before it breaks into a brisk beat with another cracking bassline. Less politically driven this time, the song is basically about the misery of the rat race and the commute that most of us have to suffer through on a daily basis, with Vincent singing ‘Commute / Were we meant to be herded?’ during its chorus. This is unfortunately one of the weaker tracks on the album and quite quickly becomes repetitive, so it’s a bit of a relief when the next track ‘Capital’ kicks-off with a big meaty bassline before erupting into a frantic rhythm with Luck pounding at his kit like a man possessed and rattling cowbells and whistles which give the track a carnival-like feeling to it. Less welcome however are the repetitive shrieks of ‘Capital’ by Vincent during the song’s bridge which he does in a rising vocal style that becomes irritating rather quickly and almost comes close to spoiling the track for me, but it’s mostly redeemed by the frantic, effervescent energy that pulses throughout it.
Bringing up the tail-end, ‘Lambrini Anarchist’ begins with a shriek of feedback, lumbering bass and discordant guitars before it eventually breaks into another quickfire beat. By this point of the album, I have to admit that I’m finding myself beginning to feel a tad wearisome after slogging-through its relentless barrage of socio-political themes. It doesn’t help at all that I’m not entirely sure what message the band are trying to convey in this track, with them screaming ‘Champagne Socialist / Prosecco Communist / Lambrini Anarchist / It’s all the fucking same’ repetitively towards it closure. If I’m being brutally honest I’m actually quite relieved when it comes to an end.
Once the teargas and molotov cocktails that threaten start flying towards the album’s end have been vanquished and I’ve had a few moments to ponder, I have to say that although I feel that it takes a slight drop-off towards its end, it works pretty well on a whole. As is the case with most albums, there are a few standout tracks on ‘Anarcho Punk Dance Party’ that really show what Austerity can do when they’re firing on all cylinders, with the best songs on it being the ones on which they sound angry and impassioned, while the weaker ones being the ones on which they’re tackling more pedestrian subject matters.
The biggest flaw of the album for me is that the political themes that the band tackle on it are far too obvious, which makes the album seem like it’s an exercise in propaganda rather than simply three lads making music - so if I was them, I’d probably have a think about burying the political theming under some less obvious subtext rather than being so blunt about it as it’s something that could put swathes of people off. In addition to that, I think that an important aspect of any young and politically-motivated band is that it needs to appeal to the generation that it represents, but I have concerns about Austerity’s all-out embracement of the sound and vocal style of late 70’s Punk as it’s not exactly on-trend and I worry that it could end up nullifying the whole point of their existence. Then again, who knows what’s going to be the next retro craze that millennials are going to dig into - it could well end up being Punk, eh?
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Review - Craig Henderson