My Listening Week: 3/24/23

Thoughts on Deathcrash, Life of Agony, Pain Clinic and more.

My Listening Week: 3/24/23

I listened to a bunch of stuff this week that also ended up on last week's grid. I already wrote about Yo La Tengo this week, so I'll pass on mentioning those. I hit Cro-Mags last week, who I couldn't stop listening to after seeing them live last Saturday. And if you want my thoughts on 10,000 gecs, then you'll have to check out the latest episode of Endless Scroll. That said, here's what I felt like scribbling about this morning.

Life of Agony - River Runs Red

I'm seeing Life of Agony play this record in full later tonight. The album's influence on heavy music has come and gone in waves, and right now it's definitely cresting on modern hardcore. Bands like Age of Apocalypse and Mutually Assured Destruction are carrying the torch for 2010s singing-core bruisers, Twitching Tongues, who were themselves the next iteration of 2000s bands like Cold World and War Hungry. All of those bands owe so much of their sound to River Runs Red, which wasn't even really a proper Hardcore record by the standards of the time, but came out of the NYHC scene and continues to speak to that audience today. It took me a long time to come around to Mina Caputo's vocal style on this album. Her Eddie Vedder-ish, gravelly warble is a vocal style that I, as someone who grew up in the 2000s, will always associate with the shitty post-grunge bands from that era. So it was tricky to get over the mental hump that this band isn't doing, like, a more pummeling take on Seether or whatever. Eventually, it clicked, and while I expect the crowd at tonight's gig to skew older and tamer than I'd like it to, I'm looking forward to twirling my fist along to "This Time" and "Underground" like I'm riding a bucking bronco.

The Chieftans - Water From the Well

My mom plays this CD of traditional Irish folk music every year on and/or around St. Patricks Day, so I've taken to doing the same thing. It makes the cabbage taste better, I swear!

U2 - U218 Singles

This is my girlfriend's family's version of traditional St. Patricks Day music, so we queued this up after the Chieftans. Equally festive.

Deathcrash - Less

A lot of my peers and pals really love this record, but I'm not there yet. Deathcrash are a band from London who make aching, dismal slowcore of the Codeine and Red House Painters variety. The type of music that will one day be reissued via Numero. I really enjoyed their 2022 album, Return, which was actually closer in form to traditionalist Nineties slowcore than Less, but for some reason felt more interesting to me. At any moment, it felt like the songs would climb out of their slumbering hole and take off into the night sky, and even if the record didn't have any bona fide post-rock swells, I liked the way they played with that tension, and hoped they'd expand into louder, more reaching material on their next release.

Less is, well, less. To my ears, the production is even more cramped and dirt-stained than Return, but there aren't nearly as many (if any?) fuzz-assisted squalls of Slint-y post-hardcore that make the plodding parts worth the walk. The new ingredient here is Midwest emo, putting this closer to Karate than Codeine on the slowcore spectrum, but Deathcrash make Karate's half-hearted bubbles of melody and pep sound like maximalist pop exuberance by comparison. The miserablist muttering and throaty emo yelps are set against twinkling, shuffling guitar drudgery that rolls around in the dirt, groaning and wincing, but never pulling itself up to its feet.

For some listeners, the essential conceit of slowcore is that it sounds like rock music made by people who are too tortured and mournful to rock out, so maybe my issues with this album are a result of me disregarding what this specific style is setting out to accomplish. Nevertheless, I need this kind of thing to have some kind of dynamic arc to it (that's why Duster are goated), and this album is a flat plain of endless nothingness. Every slowcore album rides an extremely fine line between boring and sore-armed beauty. For all its defeatist sentimentality, Less doesn't throb or writhe enough to prick my heart. It just makes me doze off.

Pain Clinic - Gimmick Dreams

This is a beatdown band from Pittsburgh who just put their first EP out late last year. I've seen them play twice in the last couple months, and I'm all-in on what they've got going on. I think 80% of beatdown hardcore is pretty much unlistenable, but Pain Clinic do everything to avoid the neanderthalic sub-genre's easiest pitfalls. First off, the vocalist oozes charisma, half-bellowing, half-rapping in the vein of Gridiron or End It's vocalists, but never cheesing it up too much. He also looks like someone Popeye would duke out in a battle of fisticuffs, which is usually the mark of a great beatdown vocalist. When I saw Pain Clinic the other day, he performed one song with a miniature baseball bat in one hand, evil-eyeing the crowd while he wielded a skull-cracking weapon. 10/10.

Most importantly, this shit is just insanely catchy, from the stupidly fun "P-a-i-n c-l-i-n-i-c" chant of "Lead Core," to having another eponymous track three songs later with the infectious refrain, "There is no pain limit/Welcome to the pain clinic." The main riff and groove of that song is a direct rip of Trapped Under Ice's "Reality Unfolds," but I'm not even mad 'cause they use it so well. Nothing about this material is flashy, but the dudes can clearly play. You couldn't call it clever, but there's genuine anger behind the lyrics ("Going Into Business for Yourself" scans as a furious invective against a deadbeat father) that prevent it from ever feeling like tough-guy posturing. If you're in the market for some new ass-beating hardcore, admit yourself to the Pain Clinic.