Hardcore is big on conviction. Twenty years of saturation in the genre haven’t so much stripped new lyrics of any relevance as amassed a huge body of archived vitriol against which new releases can be measured and compared, alongside which they can be categorized and filed. No one’s arguing with the conviction part—vocals delivered with larynx-mangling force, blood and sweat and $12 for gas money to get to the next show. But sooner or later even the bands should have to admit that no one’s saying anything about the Them in the “Us and/versus Them” article of hardcore faith—Christians, fascists, politicians, slam-dancing jocks—that hasn’t been sung into the swamp a hundred times before.
At the same time, that a hardcore band would even consider dispensing with a lyric sheet is ridiculous. The human voice is an instrument and so should be granted the same expressionist liberties as a Rat-gnawed guitar or a bass so throttled by fuzz that its natural-born purpose as a rhythmic anchor is all but forgotten. Speed and force, alas, have a way of rendering vocals all but unintelligible both live and on recordings, and by leaving out the lyrics a band is practically admitting that what it has to say doesn’t merit even an hour or so spent copying it down for inclusion on the release.
But, then again, sometimes it’s actually preferable to want something and not have it than to have it and find you didn’t really need it at all. Musically, Missoula/Kalispell’s Disgruntled Nation are at the top of their game. With Dave Parsons replacing original guitarist Rob Alley last year and the addition of a second guitarist, Justin Lawrence, earlier this summer, they’ve simply never sounded better. The seven songs on Double Plus Good Duck Speak featuring the new lineup (12 additional tracks from previous vinyl and cassette outings are also included) hit you like a swinging bag of nails—some scumbag East Bay influences and a lingering Poison Idea fixation are discernible, but it’s all Disgruntled Nation and it’s a nasty good beating.
Lyrically, though, Disgruntled Nation are still fighting to keep up with the fearsome evolution of their music. A clever line here and there aside, a few too many of these are still stuck in the Us and Them rut—no need to prescribe songs about feelings or anything, but the drunk jock/bothersome Bible-beater/I hate/fuck you theme is wearing dangerously thin, even for hardcore.
You’d never know without looking at the lyric sheet, though. It’s included, if you choose to look at it, on a folded sheet of letter-sized paper.
Paul Bunyan Band
Hot damn! This is not only one of the more diabolically clever Missoula releases I can remember, but also the most ambitious and downright adorable: covers of/songs inspired by music from vintage video games. The original duo of Chris “Close to the Edge” Pickolick and Louis Gobeo has recently been expanded and revamped to include second guitarist Chris Baumann and bassist Max Allyn. To put the musical sexiness factor of the Paul Bunyan Band into perspective for the lay reader, two members of Volumen showed up at a recent concert with a large handmade banner protesting their ouster from the original expanded lineup—which was put together mostly for playing live—after just three shows, apparently because they weren’t able to tour. Wow, I thought, if these two are even theatrically sad and lonely about getting their walking papers, that sure says something about the Paul Bunyan Band! Of course, by this point in the show my mind must have looked like a handful of wet Kleenex tossed through a rose bush. It didn’t matter a bit that I’d never heard of most of the video games (the names of which were announced before each selection) and wasn’t properly qualified to compare the Paul Bunyan treatment to the original versions. What I saw was a kick-ass instrumental show by any standards, complete with Thin Lizzy-style guitar harmonies (“BattleChess”), head-bobbing Budgie/Trouble moments with bitchin’ bell-work on the cymbals (“Jaws 2”) and hand-clapping dance-around bass and drum funk breakdowns (“Fortitude” from the Quarterback Club Suite). I was practically fainting with pleasure.
Thank You includes material from a shorter CD released last year and a lot of new stuff as well—23 tracks in all. It cost me five bucks at the show and would have been worth it for the sprinting “Kirby” alone. The gay-as-a-May-day portrait shots on the cover and inside pretty much make it priceless.
Dog Meets Girl
Here’s another band who have come a long way in the past three years and who have also never sounded better since they added a second guitarist. Dog Meets Girl will be out just in time for the Disappointments’ late summer tour that should have fans of pop-punk a la Fat Records, Lookout and Hopeless reaching for their wallets as surely as slumming sorority girls will be reaching for their Zimas and Camel Light 100s.
The songwriting is tight and tough. Guitars are bright and very crisply recorded, with some neat intro flourishes and lots of the chugga-chugga chords you expect from the Disappointments and similar bands in this genre. Great harmonies, too—guitarists Zack White and Richie Rowe have very complementary vocal and guitar styles and tone-wise they fit well together. Rowe has also sweetened the four-piece sound with a healthy sonic dollop of the Sputniks (“You’ll Get Yours”) at their more melodic and anthemic. Last year’s Soiled Again EP was a good start, but Dog Meets Girl is the definitive Disappointments recording to date.