'm starting to understand what it must have been like to be a fan of Born Against when they were around, I think. Why? Because of the reaction to Wrangler Brutes. For those uninitiated, they are comprised of Sam McPheeters, the sarcastic gremlin-in-the-machinery-of-hardcore-cum-Tourette's-absurdist behind Born Against and his later band, Men's Recovery Project; Andy Coronado, bassist for the mangled five-years-ahead-of-their-time (but only that) post-punk Monorchid and guitarist for their follow-up, the more West-Coast-art-punk-tinged Skull Kontrol; Brooks Headley, drummer for arty emo-core pioneers Universal Order of Armageddon and Skull Kontrol; and Cundo Si Murad, known for hooded solo (and recently group) noise terrorism in a band that I feel I would be doing a disservice to him if I outed his involvement therein. (Hint: eerie-sexy vocalist Christina Billotte is also involved, if you saw her skulking around at a show recently only to disappear when a bunch of guys in quasi-Klan robes hit the stage.)
So the morbid fascination-repulsion, I think, is largely due to the involvement of one S. McPheeters. From what I understand, Born Against had a lot of closet fans that were afraid to go to their gigs for fear of ridicule. This is because they spent so much time ridiculing hardcore, and Men's Recovery Project carried it even further in terms of willful obscurity and self-sabotage. This was a band known for things like pretending to have technical difficulties setting up for 45 minutes, playing the same 45-second song three times in a row, and leaving abruptly (abandoning their van in the process). They also drew a legion of detractors, at least in 8-year-old Usenet posts, but critiquing them seems beside the point. Now people see Sam's return to relatively straightforward hardcore (perhaps best described as that of the bands that Born Against drew at least part of their inspiration from) as another odd prank, or perhaps the most pretentious, insulting move of all. Does he like to antagonize people, no matter the medium? Does he just need an outlet? Or does he just, as he has stated in interviews, have an honest desire to get together with some friends of the early-'90s weirdo school and jam out?
The answer is probably all and none of the above. One thing I know is that Wrangler Brutes seem to have a pretty vocal, if small, fanbase, one again derided by the seen-it-all Brahmins of hardcore hegemony as dropouts from the scene who wildly overrate the Brutes on blogs, in between Wolf Eyes and Vashti Bunyan records, as young kids fooling themselves into thinking what they witness is a tenth as genuine as what they once did, etc., etc. That may well be true; the earnest-versus-ironists kulturkampf dates back to at least the Enlightenment and will continue parallel to our civilization's slouch toward Gomorrah. The you-missed-out-and-we-didn't one goes back to Christ's day, the we-missed-out-and-now-what-are-we-gonna-do one to the Gnostic gospels.
Hot Snakes are a great band, one that nobody seems to give the kind of shit the Wrangler Brutes get (when, that is, they're paying attention to them). I think this album is a lot like the Snakes's first: instead of a Wipers tribute, think a love letter to the Circle Jerks (their singer, Keith Morris, has a cameo as the voice of an all-knowing God who makes Sam memorably sing "Ohhhh, Shiiiit!!"), early Dead Kennedys, and less backpatch-illumined West Coast oddballs comped on "Killed By Death". Boston's weirder early-'80s contours, like the snaky lunacy of The Freeze, get limned as well. A bristly mess of note-laced guitar flurry and amphetamine-fueled drumming roar past, both of which veer from straight thrash to creepier territory reminiscent of the prog roots that lay buried well beneath Pat Smear's guitar work in the Germs (check the Yes-inspired-nay-plagiarized intro to "No God"). Steve Albini's production is a little thin, but I can't imagine them recorded any better, except for perhaps the redlined riot of their self-titled cassette (mini-review: a lot like this one, but with more [hilarious/sad?] pained introspection from their frontman. Sample lyric: "Don't act surprised, all living things die / Audience and vocalist alike").
And Sam? Well, his rants are very much like those in Men's Recovery Project, which means we’re treated to disquisitions on the semiotics of underwear and the threat of human mortality, a straightforward discourse on rising gas prices, an unnecessarily spiteful rant about the Urban Outfitters generation and a first-person plea for understanding from a man who keeps getting ambushed by assailants with makeshift weapons in his accountant's office and at his local Cinnabon. What more could you ask for from a guy who once dressed up as Abe Lincoln and fired blanks from a shotgun into the audience?
Sure, you might have your reasons to deride them. Sure, you might be a fan of their former bands, young or old, and a little disappointed at the lack of grandiose innovations. You might even be an indie rocker who gave up on hardcore long ago trying to retcon your life into a continual love-affair (I can relate; I feel the same way about IDM and reviewing records). Disregarding that, this sure is a nice little blast of punk fury in a cultural climate that kinda needs it again. I'll see you at their Philly date on Election Day.
Reviewed by: Chris Smith
Reviewed on: 2004-10-26