One night in the long-ago time of February 2020, Ian MacKaye stood onstage in Charlottesville, Virginia and sang these words: “What’s surprising is the expectation that we’d ever have a say/ About who’d be standing on that carpet on inauguration day.” There was no mistaking that line. Nobody in the crowd had heard the song “Inauguration Day” before that night, but MacKaye’s new band Coriky had printed up a big stack of photocopied lyric sheets, and they were all sitting at the table where people came in. At the time, I thought this line was cold and fatalistic. At the time, it looked like maybe something actually could be achieved from people trying to have their say. There were people in that crowd in Bernie Sanders shirts. Super Tuesday hadn’t happened yet. The coronavirus pandemic hadn’t happened. George Floyd’s murder hadn’t happened. Magical thinking was still possible.
Ian MacKaye was right. He usually is. MacKaye’s work — with Minor Threat, with Embrace, with Fugazi, with the half-dozen other bands he’s sung for — has meant a whole lot to a whole lot of people. It’s been possible, over the years, to hold MacKaye up as some kind of totem of punk rock idealism. But that’s overly simplistic, and it also does a great disservice to the actual music that MacKaye has made and that often doesn’t fit that monastic punk-rock saint narrative.
For much of the ’00s and ’10s, for instance, MacKaye was half of the Evens, a duo with the drummer and singer Amy Farina. Their music was quiet, murmured, internal. It sounded like two people having a conversation with their voices and their instruments. MacKaye’s baritone guitar rumbled and sparkled. Farina’s drums shuffled and danced, doing complicated polyrhythmic push-pulls. MacKaye’s voice is a stentorian bellow, and Farina’s is a crystalline alto, but the somehow harmonized beautifully. They still do.
Coriky, the new band, is MacKaye, Farina, and bassist Joe Lally, MacKaye’s longtime bandmate in Fugazi. MacKaye has said that the three of them have been a band for five years and that they simply spent the first four of those years playing together in a basement, not in public. You can tell. These three people already knew each other very well, and they would’ve known each other very well even without those years in the basement. Coriky’s self-titled debut does not sound like a debut. It sounds like the work of a veteran band with a long-established chemistry.
In Coriky, you can hear that miraculous thing that can happen when musicians understand and trust one another. Lally’s basslines are slow and rich and resonant, and they always lent a crucial and unsung dimension to Fugazi’s sound. In Coriky, Lally and Farina don’t lock in with one another that often. Instead, they dart in and out of each other, pushing each other in different directions. MacKaye’s guitar rings and tingles and sometimes erupts. On the album, you can hear three people developing a whole new musical language, a way of interacting. It’s exciting.
Bands aren’t math equations. Coriky isn’t Fugazi with Amy Farina playing the Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty roles. It’s also not the Evens with a bass player. There are moments where Coriky sound like Fugazi or like the Evens. Nobody on earth sounds like Ian MacKaye, so everytime he opens up his throat, it calls up entire lifetimes of righteous, anthemic music. But the sound on Coriky is strikingly fully formed. The album has an ominous, uneasy beauty that doesn’t really sound like anything these three musicians have ever done.
The quiet parts of Coriky sound like storm clouds gathering. The loud bits are usually hard-ripping MacKaye guitar solos, noisy bursts of static that always breathe in rhythm. MacKaye has always talked about how much he admires the music of blues-rock guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix and Ted Nugent. Coriky is the first time I’ve ever really heard their influence at work in his music. In those moments, Coriky is a power trio in the classic sense.
Lyrically, Coriky is a cold, bracing slap of a record — a chronicle of living as an idealist in a time when your ideals have been defeated. It’s not just the sad farce of electing leaders that we hear about on “Inauguration Day.” On “Hard To Explain,” MacKaye describes the endlessly frustrating pointlessness of online arguments: “We speak in circles, no end in sight/ Neither one of us will ever be right.” On “Have A Cup Of Tea,” MacKaye briefly returns to his old hardcore bark: “Pressure’s always on, poison overflowing/ Living with the enemy, living with the enemy, living with the enemy.” On “Last Thing,” he takes a hard look at the opaque workings of government and economy: “Leviathan far too big to understand/ By design and unpopular demand.” And then, on the grinding demands of productivity: “There is no time for dissent/ We sold it all to pay the rent/ So off to work we go!”
That’s a stark and depressing way to look at the way people function in the world now. It’s also accurate. And in the beauty of the actual song, “Last Thing” also suggests something resembling hope. The song is slow and intricate. MacKaye’s guitar has a ghost of Delta blues in it. Farina’s drums are a complicated patter, full of snare brushes and cymbal tings. Lally’s bass plays doomy riffs softly. MacKaye, Farina, and Lally join their voices in harmony, and then they sing rounds, like they’re sitting around a campfire. It’s beautiful. Every song on the album is beautiful.
That night in Charlottesville in February was a great night. Coriky played in an old church all that’s been converted into a place where local kids practice and perform and record. Nobody paid a cover, but there was a box up front where people could contribute to the Music Resource Center. Coriky went right onstage at 8PM, with no openers, and they played every song on their album under strings of Christmas lights. I think I saw MacKaye and Farina’s kid helping Farina break down her drum set as the show ended. The crowd was full of old friends.
As dark as Coriky’s songs are — and they are dark — the band’s sound and story and methodology present an argument that good things can still happen if they’re done with family and community in mind, if they’re not forced to connect to some broader context or narrative. Even as it acknowledges defeat, Coriky is a triumphant record.
Coriky is out 6/12 on Dischord Records.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Pop Smoke’s as-yet-untitled posthumous album.
• Savages leader Jehnny Beth’s glossily tough solo debut To Love Is To Live.
• The self-titled debut from Disheveled Cuss, Tera Melos frontman Nick Reinhart’s catchily grungy new project.
• Former Spank Rock rapper Naeem’s heartfelt, collab-heavy solo debut Startisha.
• Pond/Tame Impala side project GUM’s psychedelic Out In The World.
• Bibio’s pastoral, folk-influenced Sleep On The Wing.
• Built To Spill’s tribute album Built To Spill Plays The Songs Of Daniel Johnston.
• Kate NV’s experimental pop record Room For The Moon.
• Drab City’s swirling, genre-agnostic debut Good Songs For Bad People.
• Gia Margaret’s ambient instrumental LP Mia Gargaret.
• Deep Purple’s classic-rock return Whoosh!
• Orville Peck’s Show Pony EP.
• TENGGER’s Nomad! EP.