Even at her most feral and vengeful, PJ Harvey was never a punk. 1993’s Rid Of Me, which Harvey recorded with Steve Albini, is about as close as she ever came. As a punk record, Rid Of Me works beautifully; it’s stark and loud and intense and confrontational. But even there, Harvey is a time-traveling mystic as much as anything — covering Bob Dylan, making allusions to old blues records and outmoded ideas of female sexuality. Her ideas were always too big to linger long on the brutalist negation that punk rock needs. But what if Harvey had been a punk? What if she’d started recording a couple of years earlier, when she was mired deep in seething teenage fuck this feelings? Or what if she’d held the Ramones or Bratmobile in the same esteem as she held, say, Captain Beefheart or Rilke? If she’d never learned, or cared, to convey gothic sweep? That’s where the teenage Barcelona band Mourn comes in. They’re a hypothetical thought experiment come to life, a version of Harvey with all the magic swept away and nothing but hard, fun simplicity in its place. And while their self-titled debut isn’t up there with Dry or Rid Of Me or To Bring You My Love, it’s pretty fucking badass on its own.
Mourn frontwoman Jazz Rodríguez Bueno learned about Harvey, and about Patti Smith, from her father, a Barcelona musician. And in one of those exceedingly rare instances of a father introducing his kid to his music and it somehow working out, Bueno grew up to sound exactly like Harvey. Bueno sings in English, with an accent that’s more English than Catalan. And she uses her voice just like a young Harvey did: Bold and snarly and muscular, sometimes letting that voice drift into an airy wail but just as happy to bellow right through everything around her. She even ends phrases in a wordless “whoop!” sometimes, just like Harvey used to do. She sounds tough an elemental and absolutely happy to tell you all the ways you don’t impress her, just as Harvey once did. But as a lyricist, Harvey was allusive and poetic, while Rodriguez is direct like Bikini Kill-era Kathleen Hanna. “You think you’re awesome,” she tells some hopeless fuck. “I say you’re boring.” Indeed, Mourn belongs to a proud punk rock tradition: It’s an album about how a lot of the people in Bueno’s life are total pieces of shit. As with any number of early hardcore albums, Bueno uses the harshest, most concrete terms possible. Harvey or Smith would’ve never named a song “Boys Are Cunts.” Bueno is happy to.
Bueno, like Harvey, has a huge tidal-wave voice that sounds completely beyond space and time. Other than that, though, Mourn sound like teenagers, which is exactly what they are. Three of the band’s members, including Bueno, are 18; the other (Bueno’s younger sister Leia, who plays bass) is 15. They play with the buzzing urgency of kids who cannot wait to tell everyone around them to fuck off. Even with a bonus track, the album blows by well under the half-hour mark, and many of the best songs clock in under two minutes. The band recorded all 10 songs straight to tape, all playing in the same room, and they knocked the whole thing out in a couple of days. And it sounds feverishly bashed-out, in the best way possible. The guitar riffs slash and kick, and the rhythm section rips forward with nervous energy. The production is dry and loud and physical enough to pass for Albini. The band has hooks, but they aren’t pop-punk hooks or hardcore hooks. They’re big, bruising elemental hooks, hooks that connect because of the way Bueno just howls them.
I’ve spent a whole review now comparing what Mourn do on their album to what one specific artist was doing a long time ago, and from that, you’ve probably figured out that Mourn are not exactly reinventing anything here. This is basic, direct music, and it’s not going to reshape your understanding of anything. But it’s impressive. You don’t need to know that the women (and one dude) in the band are teenagers to be blown back by the raw vitality in the music. It’s big, nervy, physical music, and it demands to be played loud. There are moments of churn, of tension-and-release, but the band’s default mode is all-out blitzkrieg. And they have an absolute command of that sound. Mourn sounds like the beginning of something. If they go on ahead like the Ramones, working slight variations on their core sound for years to come, I will not complain. But I hope they take after Harvey, settling on a new sound and conquering it with every successive release. They’ve got it in them. The elemental force is already there.
Mourn is out now on Captured Tracks.
Other albums of note out this week:
• The self-titled debut from Tad Doyle’s titanic stoner-metal band Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth.
• The Amazing’s grand, sprawling rocker Picture You.
• José González’s long-awaited meditative solo return Vestiges & Claws.
• Krill’s splintered, jittery wordy guitar attack A Distant Fist Unclenching.
• The Juliana Hatfield Three’s tuneful, polished reunion move Whatever, My Love.
• A Place To Bury Strangers’ tough, terse, fuzz-addled Transfixation.
• Six Organs Of Admittance’s experimental guitar clinic Hexadic.
• Divers’ Springsteenian punker Hello Hello.
• Sonny And The Sunsets’ ramshackle psych-pop missive Talent Night At The Ashram.
• Leviathan’s black metal misanthropy-fest Scar Sighted.
• Pops Staples’ posthumous soul-gospel album Don’t Lose This, co-produced by Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy.
• In Tall Buildings’ serene, thoughtful Driver.
• Libertines side project Carl Barât And The Jackals’ debut Let It Reign.
• B-52s singer Kate Pierson’s solo album Guitars And Microphones.
• Grooms’ lush indie rocker Comb The Feelings Through Your Hair.
• Adventures’ layered, thoughtful DIY record Supersonic Home.
• Ibeyi’s ghostly self-titled debut.
• Mastery’s progressive black metal exercise Valis.
• Sarpanitum’s technical death metal guitar onslaught Blessed Be My Brothers.
• Marika Hackman’s old-timey folk debut We Slept At Last.
• Nedelle Torrisi’s oblique pop record Advice From Paradise.
• Busses’ ripping psych-rocker Wizard Of The Eye.
• VF3, Phosphorescent keyboardist Scott Stapleton’s solo electronic album as Virgin Forest.
• Hundred Waters’ The Moon Rang Like A Bell Remixed.
• Phosphorescent’s Live At The Music Hall.
• Slutever’s great Almost Famous EP.
• Programm’s Like The Sun EP.
• Culture Abuse’s Spray Paint The Dog EP.
• Le Couleur’s Dolce Désir EP.
• Rye Pines’ Dead Ocean EP.