Wednesday, 13 March 2013

RVIVR - The Beauty Between

Sometimes the things a band do outside of just making music don't matter too much, like the lead singer of Who Killed Spiky Jacket? is a UFO investigator who contributes to Ancient Aliens and that, while totally damn great, didn't really impact on the way I thought about that album, but it seems that more people have an opinion on the way RVIVR conduct themselves at shows and the shit they say than their music. Me, I probably agree with them on like 97% of the shit they believe, and while they may seem to be abrasive arseholes a bunch of the time, if I didn't listen to music made by abrasive arseholes I wouldn't listen to anything really. Most of the time too, those abrasive arseholes are nihilistic squealheads just obliterating pain and sense in a fuck-you-kill-me cacophony and a whole host of people find themselves able to get down with that or just cleanly cleaving art and artist in the way they see and discuss these acts. It's fucking sad and shitty that people have no problem listening to bands that say and do horrible stupid shit in the name of being childish pricks, but draw the line at people who might occasionally say some stupid shit in the name of trying to make things better. Too many people so pumped on a band being confrontational until a band actually confronts them about some real shit, but the relevancy and problem of RVIVR is clear from the fact that Matt Canino is one of the most prominent feminist voices in punk rock and while he should be given a prop or two for taking a stand, it's fucked up that a dude is that, even if he's obviously part of a band that's built on a level creative partnership between him and Erica Freas and admirably continually attempts to highlight non-straight non-male voices within the scene. That's the sort of conflict that they can't resolve in any interview I've read by them and maybe it's impossible to resolve.

But the joy of RVIVR is that their art has always had a nuance and subtlety that their public statements do not, which is interesting as a bunch of punk bands don't do that. For every band like Iskra whose songs talk about Ted Kaczynski like he's a freedom fighter and advocate the overthrow of the government, and then in interviews talk about Ted Kaczynski like he's a freedom fighter and advocate the overthrow of the government (constistency is the key for blackened crust anarcho-primitivists, it seems) but a lot of bands make obliterating didactic records and then seem quieter and more contemplative outside of that. You find bands like Leftover Crack write songs about killing cops and sainting the Columbine murderers but then Stza in person seems kinda bemused by his crustscum fanbase and capable of way more wit and slyness than a man who's frequently allied himself with teenage murderers just on the basis that they hated themselves too, justifying his lyrics in the grey space of poetics and capable of offering a much tighter critique of society than a song called One Dead Cop can (or, let's be honest, really is designed to), but RVIVR write some beautiful goddamn songs capable of drawing terse vivid pictures of particular spaces in society and the struggles and troubles of them inside a two minute punk song, and then in an interview manage to come across like bores who see themselves like self-appointed spokespeople for a huge number of diverse people.



Anyway, an oppressive society does not allow, or attempts to not allow, for differentiation and breadth and depth within those who are non-normative. You are white straight and male, you are allowed to choose your definition, you are punk, you are goth, you are whatever subculture you so desire, but the allowance and prominence given to these self-determinations lessens as the oppressions gather. These oppression attempt to paint women, or LGBT people, or people of colour as monoliths, single entities, so they can dismiss them, file them away, easily assimilate them. This is the process where you get someone like Andrew Pierce making a career by being a gay dude writing for a shitty homophobic conservative newspaper with the idea that "If this one gay dude is cool with it, then obviously it's not homophobic and all gay dudes are cool with it."

Yeah this fucking shitsmeared world doesn't want the glorious rainbow of differing points of view from people who are pushed down by its rulers, but art is one of the ways we reach through that, because art allows a particular point-of-view from anyone, a description of one life that has power in its individuality, the knowledge that this is a particular life, but also as it stands there alone it draws others closer when they recognise something resonant in it. So you can create community, relatable things by creating a singular thing in the knowledge that people will catch bits of themselves in its reflections, probably nots its entire shape, but you say "I FEEL LIKE THIS!" loud enough and people we call out "YEAH! ME TOO!" so we break the distances between us in this opt-in expression of emotion and hurt and awkwardness, and music, songs, are always those opt-in places, cos no-one's forcing you to singalong, so in that place we can even throw-in some "WE FEEL LIKE THIS!" sort of shouts once you drawn enough people to you and then a bunch of people will shout back "YEAH! WE DO!" The distance and function of poetry is such that you can step on into that nice "This is us." rhetoric and you don't need to spend acres of time on qualifications and rewordings and footnotes in the way that you would if you're actually trying to explicate a real entanglement of the social fuckedupness we're all indoctrinated into and pushing against or falling prey to in different ways. You can be righteous in a song. And then step out of it and into the infinitely complex scrum of crosscutting cultural pressures.

Though still, there is a constant attempt to crush these things too into easily manageable stereotype shapes, to push all descriptivist depictions into prescriptivist ones, and that's something you gotta be wary of. Now you can't judge someone too harshly for allowing their words to be snaffled up by this trap which nips and lunges to ensnare from pre-sentience to death, but you've got to attempt to at least acknowledge it, step around it somehow, and while you might want to access the easy instant swell of support that comes from "WE FEEL LIKE THIS!" rhetoric but outside of art, outside of a song, it's just gonna kinda backfire because of the world you're throwing it out into (and the world, which if you seem so up on its particular shittiness most of the time, you should know you're throwing it out into) and people are not gonna sit by and let that one slide easily. You shout "WE FEEL LIKE THIS!" (or even trickier: "THEY FEEL LIKE THIS!") there then inevitably a bunch of people are gonna call out "YEAH! WE DO!" and a bunch more people are gonna call out "THE FUCK YOU TALKIN 'WE', DICK'EAD!?" i.e. if you say something along the lines of "NO MOSHING BECAUSE WOMEN DON'T FEEL SAFE!" whatever the intent, the impact is that you're implying that the women who were moshing aren't 'proper' women, or were just too stupid to know how they felt until you told them how to feel (which also ends up in this particular case feeding into a notion of what it means to be ladylike, and ladylikeness cannot help be a prescriptive paternalistic patriarchal concept.) When you're lacing your stuff (your public statements not your art) with those prescriptivisms it's a dangerous business if you're talking about the way being part of an oppressed group (based on race, sexuality, gender, gender identity or other things) makes you a certain way, because this isn't something like punk where all the meaning is brought from outside and it's really a meaningless thing imbued with power by choice, this is some essential human deep shit that people are getting killed and destroyed behind every day so saying, even by accident, that there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it is fucking troublesome.

But anyway, whatever RVIVR say around their music, whatever problems they've got there, like I said, I've got no problem listening to bands where I disagree with some dumb shit they say, and this is a great album that for the first three songs at least feels like this is an instant fucking classic. The opt-in certainties of songs are where they are often strong, sometimes amazing, where they let shit shiiine.



The opener The Seam and the way it builds reminds me of the way Bent Outta Shape's Stray Dog Town opens with it's clamorous push-pull of Disappointment Rock, and that's fucking great, because Stray Dog Town is quite possibly the best (or at least my favourite) punk album of the last ten years, spindly and beautiful and snotty and scratched Marianas-deep into my soul. It's obvious that RVIVR are fans of that band (they namecheck their song Rudes and Cheaps on the very next song) and this is a perfect opener, setting out the way things with procede, rumbling on with the bass and drums, the guitar frills stabbing and poking gently, though it's tighter, fuller, less prone to bare shining bones in its construction than Bent Outta Shape's beautifully windborn snip-and-scratch feel, laying the groundwork for the explosion of the song into a few anthemic bleak inevitabilities:

"WHEN THE PAIN BEARS DOWN RIGHT TO THE SEAM 
WHEN YOU SINK DEEP DOWN TO TRY TO BREATHE 
WHEN THE PRESSURE ON EACH OTHER PULLS MORE THAN GRAVITY 
WE DON'T NEED WORDS TO SING"

Then it knocks into this nasty weirdskronk freak out like its a goddamn Colored Rice Men song or something which it bursts out of with a triumphant shout of "WE DON'T NEED WORDS TO SING!" echoing in equal parts the nerve-gas-scrawlnoise-into-chorus-refrain of Dead Kennedys' Chemical Warfare and the huge ramshackle ecstacy of Bomb the Music Industry!'s "WHEN WE'RE NOT FEELING STRONG WE GRAB THE MIC AND SING ALONG!" on Happy Anterrabae Day! and the chaos of inane loving na-na-na's that follow it. That's where this album is at right there. It's gonna kick right into the hurt, the failure of days, it's gonna try and break into itself but fuck if it's not gonna come crashing out of the mork with a "WHOA-OH-OH!", a sung sound which derives its power from its company, its choral possibilities, its pure physical release beyond its definition. It's such a perfect little trick, this album is gonna show you its fist 'fore it hits you in the face with it. It's tell you how it's gonna stunt on you, how it's gonna save your fucking dumb punkgeek head, and then it goes right ahead and does it.



Then comes another beauty in LMD, more of that tight bass rumble under a song that spraypaints its name in water, from rain to piss to holy water (there's a bunch of rain in this album, from the start of LMD to Rainspell to end of Party Queen, which is what you probably get when you live in the Pacific Northwest.) tying them together in a complicated dance of renewal. Eschewing the simple metaphor of cleansing power, acknowledging it but tying it together with the reality of a sudden downpour on a grim October afternoon trudging home from your dead-end job when all you want to do is fucking die.

"YOU WAKE UP IN THE STORM
TIRED OF SCREAMING SINCE THE DAY YOU WERE BORN
BUT THE SKY AIN'T PISSING HOLY WATER
IT MAKES YOU WET AND IT MAKES YOU DEAD THERE'S NO ONE COMING FOR YA, NO!"

That's what a lot of the best lyrics of this album often do, slice past a cliche while dragging it along with it, revivifying it by twisting it, breaking it, mocking it, then flipping it right back at just fucking bellowing it, biting comic book lines, sillily dancing up on simple pop/pulp-culture frivolities (LMD = Life Model Decoy, Marvel androids) and the way those four-colour hero-and-villain/robot-and-alien stories can hit you deeper than you'd maybe like to admit in the way that dumb little punk bands have done from The Traits' Nobody Loves the Hulk to  Screeching Weasel's 99 to Rancid's Sidekick to The Boonaraaas I'm In Love With Hulk the Monster (FUCK YOU THE TRAITS!) to Rev Norb's entire career.

That cut-cliche glass sharpness is present again on the following number, Spider Song, with its tales of social networks exploded and friends slipping away which thrown out through Freas' voice which, throughout this album, is a fucking screaming wonder. This is he first song they previewed off this album, which I listened to probably 30 times on Youtube before I'd heard the album, all run-up drums, tickles of guitar and simple truths like "THEY JUST NEVER CALL ME IT'S NOT LIKE THEY'RE DEAD / YOU CAN LOVE SOMEONE AND JUST NOT STAY FRIENDS" that push past the punxunityfriendsforever platitudes that a lot of singalong music deals in.



It's after that the album takes what might be it's first bum note, or at least it is for me, on Old Dogs. I'm probably something of a cliche with regards to my punk tastes a lot of the time (FAST AND LOUD! LOUD AND FAST!) and while I'm sure some people would find a 100% pop-punk album without any breaks to be something of a chore I just can't get with the way this album keeps dropping its momentum for these down-tempo onea. It's why I couldn't really dig a vast majority of that Apologies, I Have None album last year that so many seemed into (despite some really interestingly put together lyrics) as it felt like an album full of slow enders which, without the counterpoint just sort of wobbled around in a torpid untethered denouement and I just ain't about that.

For instance, Spider Song, the praises of which I will sing to anyone listening, is apparently adapted from Erica Freas' solo album and while she is obviously a fucking fantastic songwriter I haven't heard that album and I don't want to. Well, I heard one song and couldn’t be bothered to listen to anymore I generally find chilled-out coffee-shop acoustic stuff boring as hell. It’s only really interesting to me when it’s weird and creepy like the Vindictives acoustic album or Doc Corbin Dart’s Patricia. Liking a punk song does not mean you’re gonna like the same song when it’s acoustic, The Measure (SA)’s version of The Moment That You Said Yes is one of my favourite songs, I couldn’t make it through more than a minute of the Soltero original after I discovered it was a cover. I find ONSIND pretty damn boring but Calvinball’s cover of Heterosexuality is a Construct is fucking great. Shit, even when I love an acoustic song like Dylan’s Desolation Row I’m just as likely to jam Rev Norb’s Desolation Twist rock and roll cover. I’m a pretty fucking simple person and I’m generally in this for the speed and noise and shouting. Quietude is for people who aren’t in the mood to kick their thoughts to pieces with feedback and Gauze songs, I don’t find myself feeling like that too often, (though I did really like a bunch of that first Waxahatchee album.) Liking a punk song doesn't mean you're gonna like the same band playing half-speed, in fact that's the chief way I fall out of bands. I don't need a breather, I don't need to breathe, spent too long in quiet places listening to my own exhalations, contemplating all that turnaround mucky shit that eats at me, that RVIVR know of and sing about, and I want that slime scumblasted out of my brainstem by a song like the Big Lie and its squeaking horns and quickshuffle dances, I don't want to fucking wallow here.

So yeah, Old Dogs, not into it. While gets bigger and louder as it trudges along, it never really speeds up and the solo it goes with at about 2:20 isn't the kind of breathless little spurt of guitar squeak that the real punk songs on this album are stuck full of like firecrackers in burnt-out car shells, but more kind of a hard rock snorer where the guitarist leans back and gurns like they're taking a big dump. Not down with that. That's kinda how I feel about most of the slower songs on this album, Old Dogs, Paper Thin, Ocean Song, Hunger Suite Pt I: Go Away, Hunger Suite Pt III: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. They've got some nice moments here and there (love the split-second about 70 seconds into Ocean Song where it makes like it's gonna drench itself in noiseguitar but sadly it's a fake-out) but they just kinda plod plod plod and too often bring to mind things I do not often wish to have brought to mind by the music I love: the aforementioned hard rock, the occasional heartland lick, the odd grungey bits, all different little parts of things that either leave me cold or I've brickheadedly set myself against with barbs and poses just cos you gotta.



But but but, there's a skip button for a reason and then we go right into another goddamn great one, Wrong Way/One Way with its guitar lick that brings to mind The Tattle Tales' So Wanna Kiss You and its great goofy Rancid pisstake video, Freas and Canino's voices bouncing off each other and coming together in another big cliche-spat-so-it-matters chorus ("WRONG WAY ON A ONE WAY STREET!") and then exactly the sort of guitar that works with this band, that carries the song up to a sharp peak and then bringing it slowly down into one of those refrains and a quieter moment (which, built into a punk song and not asked to sustain themselves actually really work) before it screams back upwards again into such a beautifully that's so built for those cathartic basementpunk moments of screamed transcendence that the drop-out for the inevitable audience-participation throat-devastation holler is just a place for you to shout your own name (seriously, the record holds an unintelligible clash of shouts from the band and the lyrics on their website just read <YOUR NAME HERE> at that point, so cool), reaffirm your own fucking existence and identity in those shitty places that made you get a hold on it in the first place, which continues on the rise-and-fall of Rainspell which has some quieter cool fucking lines, pain-as-armour smirks like "LET OUR HEARTS HOLD TO THE GOOD PARTS / AND OUR WOUNDS SCAR IN GOOD LOOKING WAY" and then just an incredible moment, a shiver-everytime perfect second when the echo of a singalong rises up as Freas sings, getting that specific(place)/general(punxfeel) gap perfectly down.

BUT WE ALL KNOW 
HOW A SOUL GETS ENTANGLED
LIKE IN THE BONES AND IN THE BODIES OF ALL THE PUNX AT VVK

I don't where or what VVK is. But I know exactly what VVK is.

Yeah, so those slower bastards really aren't my deal, and they're thrown into starker relief by how bloody incredible each fast one is. The three part Hunger Suite (though it is pretty cool to see them trying something bigger like that) has a couple of slow half-numb beasts enveloping the searing second part Bleed Out which rips with an almost hardcore, almost Katie Katty fury on lines "SO NAIL YOURSELF TO YOUR OWN SINS / AND STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM MINE / WE'VE ALL GOT SOME BLOOD ON OUR HANDS AND AN ANGER INSIDE"



They really are prone too much to the plodders though, that RVIVR relentlessness that works so well with their breakneck punk smashers just works against them when they bring it down a notch and get mellower, moodier, because it sounds not like an engine pushing these songs out into the black shooting past limits and dangers, but an uncomfortable around-town rut. Their sound just doesn't work slow most of the time. They're not Flipper. Yeah, I get the idea of dynamics, of intercutting fast and slow, or maybe offering some respite from these rapid cascades of crust-pop joy, but the album just has too many of them, and all they really do is drag and tire.

Then you've got Elephant Song which is just a rattling bit of ambient oddness in the vein of the last half of Andrew Jackson Jihad's We Didn't Come Here to Rock or the opening uneasy windscrape of Unclarified by No Statik on Everywhere You Aren't Looking, actually the sort of respite and lull I might be able to get behind. The beauteous threat and swell of amplified warehouse echoes, the field recording feel like a microphone dragged behind you in one of the dirty places this album kicks with. Then goes into Party Queen which is kind of a ending 1-2 that reminds me of The Hold Steady's Crucifixion Cruise/How a Resurrection Really Feels. The slowest spaciest number of the album, before a bigger builder that seems like something of a perfect summation of what has come before. In contrast to the other slower songs (maybe just because the final song is a fitting place for it), Party Queen fucking nails it in the way it climbs up, fills out, drags everything of the album, the chugging bass, the tight militaristic drums, the blunt yelps of Canino's voice, the soar of Freas's, the unheard millions that seem to sit just outside the line ready to blast in on each chorus, those spiky-sweet guitar fills, the Marvel comic catchphrases, echoes from The Seam and Big Lie and sticks them all together before successfully collapsing in on itself with the shoutalong of the album's title. The Beauty Between. The Beauty Between the lies, as Big Lie has it; the beauty between the cracking seams; the beauty between the tired cliche and the physicality of its truth; the beauty in between the hopes and dreams of a scene and the shittiness of its problems; the beauty in between restrictive binary notions of gender; the beauty in between the moments we live for and the moments the moments we live for live to erase and fight with; the beauty in between a punk song and its antecedents; to cop a comic book line, the beauty in The Bleed; the beauty in between a specific basement and every basement show; between comic books black-and-white morality and life's aching complexities; between saying some fucking dumbass shit and singing some beautiful true shit, between two, ten, twenty, three hundred people screaming punk songs and their own fucking name all tied together by a split-second of punk rock ascension.

It's not a perfect album, but it's got enough perfect songs that I'll come back to it again and again. It's not a perfect album, but it's one which makes you believe for a while that such an album can exist. That reminds you, even if it's a scene that deserves and needs to be critiqued frequently and deeply, that the art and noise at the heart of punk rock is worth something, that a punk song played at the right time, for the right wrong kid, can hold a life from falling apart.

8 comments:

  1. Nicely written. Love this band, and this record.

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  2. I like this post although I disagree wholeheartedly about your comments the "plodders". The slower songs help to make this album so epic with its breadth of style. When I first heard the "plodders" I applauded the effort to mix it up in an interesting and exciting way. Not enough punk bands effectively mix up the tempo. You seriously skip hunger 1 & 3? I find these two tracks to be the heart and soul of the album. Saw them play 1-3 the first time they played them publicly a couple weeks ago. It was beautiful. Be prepared to be blown away when they play it in the UK.

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  3. Just personal preference on the slow ones. This is an individual review and I really don't like that combination of midtempo chugging cleanish bass/guitar with the big straining gurnrock vocals. Too close to a whole of awful stuff I can't get behind. When I write something of this length about a record it comes after listening to it a load of times in a bunch of different ways. Close listens poring over the lyrics, sometimes dancing around my room on the fast ones, times when I obsessively play one song over and over sometimes even just listening to a 10-20 second section which I can't get out of my head because I want to find the right words to nail the feeling it gives me and then those ones, more reflective of a normal listen maybe, where you kind of get interested in doing other stuff and let the whole thing wash over to you. During one of the laidback times when I was stuck in a James Kelman book as the album ran through there was a bit near the end of The Hunger Suite Part I where I kind of snapped into awareness of the music and thought to myself something along the lines of "What the fuck? Am I fucking listening to Seether or some shit?"

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. VVK is Villa Villekula, a punk house in Columbus, OH.

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    1. VVK is actually referring to another punk house called Villa Villekula from Denver, CO.

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  6. Thank you for this very well-written review. I read this last Saturday after seeing the band again at the Empire Drive-In here in New York -- just wanted to come back and let you know you do great work that some of us truly appreciate.

    And I just reread this part: "That reminds you, even if it's a scene that deserves and needs to be critiqued frequently and deeply, that the art and noise at the heart of punk rock is worth something, that a punk song played at the right time, for the right wrong kid, can hold a life from falling apart." :)

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