A Review of MSPAINT's 'Post-American'
I wrote about this year's first entry in the Hardcore Album for People Who Don't Like Hardcore taxonomy.
Since it seems like this'll be the Hardcore Album of the Year for people who've never spinkicked before, I figured it was high time I weighed in. (Not that I've never spinkicked, though I'm more of an arm-swinging mosher than a leg-whipper. That said, I can raise my ankle to chest height if the breakdown speaks to me.) Anyways, I really wouldn't call what MSPAINT are doing here "hardcore," though the songs on Post-American are at the very least hardcore-informed. The album has the loud-fast-rules genre's bite, and occasionally some of its speed. Definitely its proud, needle-like focus on what it wants to achieve. But, on a purely sonic level, Post-American isn't angry. It's not youth crew posi, either. No jubilant gangchants or buddy-buddy anthems of unity. But if you ripped these lines from penultimate track, "Titan of Hope," out of context, you might think you're combing through a CIV lyric sheet" "Let your mind out that gate/Let your mind out/Just might find out/My mind set is a titan of hope."
Having come up in the basement punk underground, the subterranean level of the present-day hardcore orb, MSPAINT are in a different world from a band like Show Me the Body, but I do think their methodology is somewhat reminiscent of one another. Like the New York noise-makers (who I personally have always found underwhelming on recording, but undeniably bangin' live), MSPAINT gut fast, aggressive punk music like a jack-o-lantern. Ripping out the guitars — the meaty innards of the genre, if you will — and repurposing the shell for more curious, though just as primitively gripping, means. MSPAINT are a synth-based punk band, but their synths are so loud, brash and staticky that you might mistake them for guitars if you didn't know otherwise. Similarly, Show Me the Body swap guitar for banjo and assign a shelf of programmable doo-dads to serve as would-be-second-six-string. Both bands are hollowing out the common gourd that is a straightforward hardcore song and frickle-fucking it into something unrecognizable, though not so unrecognizable as to obscure their songwriting's physical allure. However, the difference between the two bands is that Show Me the Body crudely and callously chuck the pumpkin on a widow neighbor's doorstep and laughingly set it ablaze, while MSPAINT gently cradle it as they spend hours carving it into a quixotic, droll little creature. MSPAINT's pumpkin receives the dignity of a November rot.
The Mississippi band's music sounds vaguely optimistic to me, and that's not a quality I usually appreciate in my hardcore (-informed) music, but I find myself making an exception here. I will say, there're songs on the front half of the record that make me crinkle my nose, then let the skin flatten, and ultimately compromise on a right-eye twitch and an affirmative nod to the side. The it's-not-for-me-but-I'll-concede-it's-well-done little gesture, you know the one. Lead single "Delete It" is kind of middling in my opinion, and the guest appearance from co-producer Ian Shelton, frontman of Militarie Gun, almost feels too on-the-nose. His natural HWUH-HWUH huffs share a sibling-like resemblance to MSPAINT vocalist Deedee's barks, and hearing them pass the mic back and forth is like watching someone play ping-pong with a wall. For me, the record really kicks into gear when the gnawing, dizzying industrial dirge, "S3," drills into the album's center and gives the go-ahead to the record's most exhilarating run of songs. Soul Glo frontman Pierce Jordan shows up on "Decapitated Reality" (his second great guest feature of 2023, following his showstopping cameo on Zulu's new album) and shrieks among the discombobulating feedback. Then, like a quarter spinning, falling to the floor, and improbably coming to a halt while standing upright on its edge, the track twirls seamlessly into a thwomping trudge of might that sounds like a head-on collision between Godflesh and M83.
The following title-track rocks with a similarly pendulum-like thrust, and tosses a little Zack de la Rocha-esque rapping in for good measure. It works! Surprisingly! I love the pocket MSPAINT are in at this point, eschewing the twitchy, curly-q'd jaunts of the album's first half and dragging us into a skin-singeing furnace that roars in spite of the wet wood's creaky, steamy, snap-crackling rejection. Like I said earlier, this band's music has an air of posi — of hope, really — to it, and it remains present, and most vitally and intriguingly so, during these gnashing, combative portions of the record. The dulcet synths and pitter-pattering beat of "Free from the Sun" — not to mention Deedee's almost singing but still mostly talking vocal delivery — sound so much sweeter and more accommodating after I've been battered to shit for a few minutes prior, and having made it through the storm allows "Titan of Hope" to resonate as convincing, not tritely inspiring. The rapping is back a bit (I can already see the headline: From Gridiron to MSPAINT, Rapcore is Back in a Big Way), and it sounds like Deedee is physically restraining themselves from accepting the square rhyme schemes that fall out of their vocal melody, stuttering over the beat for a knobby effect that prevents this tune from tipping into anything resembling a predictably cathartic closing anthem. I would've eaten this shit up if the whole thing was as catchy as its concluding chant, but I've gotta give them their props for making my ear wade through a couple awkward verses and another shadowy, clattering breakdown to get there.
I don't know what MSPAINT will do next. This record came out on one of my favorite current labels, Convulse Records, who turned the world on to Militarie Gun but mostly still specialize in niche genre exercises like Proper Powerviolence, early 80s NYHC, and FFO Poison Idea-core. Considering the hype they're receiving in the current boom period for hardcore, I'd wager MSPAINT will jump to a bigger, glossier label for their next release — and rightly so, they've certainly got the singular appeal to reach larger audiences if they so please. But I worry that if that's the route they go, then my favorite aspects of this record will turn me into a stone statue engraved with Eh, I Like Their Old Shit Better. I can see them leaning way harder into the more, uh, traditional, I guess, post-punk elements of their sound and making a record that's snappier, hookier and maybe even smarter, but less enthralling than Post-American. That's usually the way bands go when they dare'th scale the walls of hardcore. But then again, MSPAINT are only hardcore-informed. Maybe they'll stay that way.