First things first: I am cheating here. This isn’t a mixtape. The self-titled debut album from the Western Massachusetts DIY hardcore bruisers Hoax is out on vinyl, and if you want, you can drop $15 for a wax platter with six different poster inserts and art from a fuckload of artists. Going by the Run The Jewels precedent, any album that you can buy, even a free-online album, goes into contention for Album Of The Week and leaves the mixtape conversation. And anyway, you aren’t going to find this Hoax album on Datpiff or whatever; it couldn’t be further removed from the rap-mixtape universe that this column regularly covers. But I was in a bind this week, every new rap mixtape I heard, from Chief Keef or Keef’s GBE crew or Young L or Fat Trel or Vado or Dizzy Wright, left me generally cold. I came close to giving the nod to a fucking Trinidad Jame$ tape, and I don’t think anyone wanted to see that happen. (Great beat selection on 10pc. Mild, though.) And the fact stands: Hoax are giving away their album for free on the internet, for presumably the same audience-building reasons that rappers give away mixtapes for free. And the album absolutely bangs. That matters, too.
Based on what little info I could find on this tough-to-Google band online, Hoax are a bunch of Western Massachusetts punks who have recorded a handful of singles and EPs but who are just now getting around to releasing their first proper album. Their live shows are the sorts of concrete-bunker affairs where people crawl all over each other to gargle into outstretched microphones; they look something like this. This type of thing meant the world to me in high school, but I haven’t done a good enough job keeping up with it in recent years. And that means I’m embarrassed to compare Hoax to a distressingly obvious peer: Trash Talk. Both bands work in much the same way, their songs working as short and overdriven bleats with inhumanly fast BPMs and guitars made to sound like the blood rushing to your head when you realize that the enemy troops are right outside your door and this is your only chance to strike first. Both lurch from all-out blitzkriegs into slightly-slower mosh-out breakdowns. (A million other bands pull that same trick, too, but I am just too big of a neophyte to draw parallels.) But on record at least, Trash Talk depend on implied violence as much as the actual stuff — the feedbacky moments between hate-monsoons where Lee Spielman can glower and kids in the crowd can figure out which high structure they’re going to jump off of next. Hoax, by contrast, are relatively straight-ahead and orthodox, and every song on the album blasts in without giving you much of a chance to anticipate it.
But this isn’t just indistinguishable basement-thrash. The album’s intro doesn’t come from the band; it comes from the young New York electronic-noise producer Pharmakon, whose sickening drone here sets the tone for what follows. (And at 78 seconds, Pharmakon’s intro track isn’t much shorter than most actual Hoax songs.) And like that intro track, everything on the album sounds ugly but grand and majestic at the same time. Producer Will Killingsworth pulls the Kurt Ballou trick of making the guitars sound huge without losing any of their raw immediacy. And when the band stretches out on their longer songs — the ones that almost hit the two-and-a-half minute mark — they work up a dynamic heft that pushes them toward metal. So no, they aren’t genre explorers, but there are things happening. Still, the best reason to listen to Hoax is to immerse yourself in the free-floating adrenal animosity that only an album like this can bring. For an old man like me, tracks like this have a fast and visceral effect on my memory; I can practically feel all those times I was pinned behind the fat shirtless sweaty guy in the pit, or that time an errant windmiller punched me in the eye by mistake. But for plenty of others, Hoax won’t offer nostalgia; it’ll promise future throwdowns, and it’ll help them memorize the rapid-fire grunts for when they get microphones shoved in their faces. Either way, this is life-affirming music, joyous in its all-out fury.
So the question remains: Why don’t more bands do this? I can get why, say, Coldplay wouldn’t be trying to give an album away for free on the internet. But for marginal figures like Hoax, who wouldn’t exactly do Black Keys numbers in any situation and who are probably resigned to holding down day jobs forever, a move like this just means that more people are going to end up hearing them, and maybe going to see them play live. There’s very little chance I would’ve downloaded this album if I hadn’t seen someone excitedly Tweeting about it, and if it hadn’t been right there for me to grab guilt-free. This is how rappers build audiences now. Why shouldn’t it be a way for mean-as-fuck punk bands to build audiences as well?