The Month In Hardcore: May 2022
Do you ever find yourself watching a band and thinking about your own level of coolness vis-à-vis that band? That used to happen to me pretty often when I was a kid — when I had a soft, lumpy, unformed notion of what “cool” was. It doesn’t really happen to me anymore. I’ve been around too much, and I’ve known too many people in bands. I’ve mostly stopped caring about my own coolness, and I’ve realized that most people in bands are big fucking dorks. But one night in Richmond last month, the old feeling came back. Spiritual Cramp were onstage, and I was thinking, “Damn, I should really try to be cool like these guys.”
Spiritual Cramp come from San Francisco, and they are not, strictly speaking, a hardcore band. They’re not, strictly speaking, anything; that’s one of the things that’s cool about them. Spiritual Cramp take their name from a Christian Death song, and they’ve got a cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” right smack in the middle of their only full-length album, which seems like a crazy decision to make. Last year, for a Zoom party for Stereogum donors, Spiritual Cramp sent in a video of themselves covering the Hives’ “Walk, Idiot, Walk,” and there’s definitely some hard-strutting garage rock in what they do. There’s also some Clash-style skeletal-dub dabbling. I guess Spiritual Cramp are a punk band? Or a rock band? When you see a band that doesn’t fit into any strict genre categories, you might start to think about how stupid genre categories are in the first place. I thought about that while Spiritual Cramp were playing, too.
I don’t think that the members of Spiritual Cramp care too much about being cool. (I spent some time with singer Michael Bingham before the band played, and he definitely didn’t come off as a too-cool type.) It’s not a pose thing. It simply is. When Spiritual Cramp play live, everyone keeps moving. The members of the band seem fully locked-in, working together toward a particular goal, all of them existing on the same wavelength. At hardcore shows, it’s rare to see a band performing. This is an oversimplification, but a hardcore band’s role, more or less, is to summon and channel the energy of the crowd. The singer doesn’t need to be able to sing, but the singer does need to set things off. That’s not how Spiritual Cramp do things. They just rock.
There’s one guy in Spiritual Cramp whose whole job is to jump around with a tambourine — the Bez/Beau Beau hypeman position. I love that, even though the guy wasn’t with the band when they played Richmond. (From what I’m told, he doesn’t usually travel with them.) Maybe it’s different when that guy is around, but even when he’s not, Spiritual Cramp are a machine. The band’s records are a lot of fun, but their live show is a whole other beast. For one thing, they play music that actually moves. I’m not used to hearing actual syncopation at hardcore shows, and now I want more of it. I want more bands like Spiritual Cramp.
Spiritual Cramp might not be a hardcore band in the most obvious sense, but I’m talking about them in this column because I saw them at a hardcore show — or, in any case, at something resembling a hardcore show. There’s a whole recent history of people from the hardcore world getting really, really into making fuzzed-out power pop: Young Guv, Tony Molina, Supercrush. (This is related to the waves of people from hardcore making shoegaze or Deftones-style seasick crunch or Warped Tour emo, but it’s not quite the same as any of them.) When you’re talking about the hardcore-to-power-pop pipeline, the big dog in the room will always be Justice Tripp. When I saw Spiritual Cramp in Richmond, Tripp’s band Angel Du$t were the headliners.
Once upon a time, Justice Tripp was the frontman for Trapped Under Ice, the head-stomping Baltimore band that inspired a whole lot of the current hardcore landscape. TUI brought a certain strain of good-time hooliganism back to hardcore, and they cranked out anthem after anthem. If you ask a people in hardcore to identify the best album of the last decade, the consensus pick will almost certainly be Big Kiss Goodnight, the absolute shit-wrecker that Trapped Under Ice released in 2011. But once they’d perfected their style, TUI moved onto other things. Drummer Brendan Yates formed Turnstile. Justice Tripp formed Angel Du$t.
Angel Du$t were basically a hardcore band when they started, but they messed around with melody more and more. Certain songs sounded like the Lemonheads or the Violent Femmes or Teenage Fanclub. 2019’s Pretty Buff, my favorite Angel Du$t album, has acoustic guitars and bongos and saxophones. It’s still at least a little bit of a hardcore album — there are mosh-part breakdowns in there — but it’s something else, too. Last year’s YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs goes even further into studio-pop territory, and it rules.
On tour these days, Angel Du$t is basically Justice Tripp and whoever else he’s playing with. Right now, all the regular non-Justice members of Angel Du$t are also in Turnstile, which means they’re pretty busy these days. When Angel Du$t played Richmond, Tripp, one of the great hardcore frontmen, played guitar while singing, which is not typically something that hardcore frontmen did. He’s still an imposing figure — a guy built like He-Man in a tight turtleneck, gold fronts, and a gold chain. But the vibe is different. Angel Du$t have changed a lot over the years, but when they play live, they mix together old songs and new ones, which can make for a cool sense of whiplash. The only time the pit really got crazy was on their old-favorite singalong “Set Me Up.” When they play that one live, Justice usually gives up the mic, and someone else comes up to scream. In Richmond, it was Lexi Reyngoudt from the Buffalo band Spaced, and she ripped it.
One of the other bands on the bill that night was Webbed Wing, another of those example of that whole hardcore/power-pop thing. Frontman Taylor Madison, formerly of Superheaven, also played in Angel Du$t’s live lineup. (Maybe the other Webbed Wing guys were in the band, too? I’m not sure.) There’s nothing definitionally hardcore about Webbed Wing’s supremely catchy fuzzed-out hooks, but hardcore is a culture as much as it’s a genre. The touring package might’ve been Angel Du$t with Spiritual Cramp and Webbed Wing, but the other bands on the bill were all straight-up hardcore. Guardrails, from Richmond, have a great barreling chug, and frontman Jesse “Jetski” Brinkley has this disarming way of talking about really serious shit — like how he survived two suicide attempts — without ever letting the vibe get heavy. Baltimore’s Jivebomb brought a primal and supremely fun hardcore punk stomp.
And then there was Spaced. I loved Spaced. Spaced are a pretty new band, and they definitely make straight-up hardcore with ferocity and dedication and immediacy. They’re catchy and brutal and intense, and they sound more than a little like Trapped Under Ice, which is a good thing. If this band sticks around, they could really become something special. Fingers crossed.
The whole bill was beautifully assembled — six bands that fit together without really sounding anything like each other. Hardcore has room for that, and I love to see it. The best shows, I think, are the ones where the bands don’t really sound like one another. Hardcore is about to head into peak festival season, and it’ll be cool to see how that trend progresses. Next weekend, I’m heading out to the Big Takeover fest, which was organized by Triple B Records boss Sam Yarmuth and Mutually Assured Destruction leader Ace Stallings. It’s a hardcore festival, but the bill also has a ton of death metal and raw punk and other stuff. Reunited grindcore pioneers Terrorizer are headlining the whole thing. I don’t think there’s going to be any power-pop at Big Takeover, but the lineup is another sign of just how big that hardcore umbrella can be. I can’t wait to see it in action.
Blazing Tomb – “Blazing Tomb”
Pray my luck-spirits see me to many war fields after I defeat this wound. I refuse to die in sickness, nor live the long life of a shameful graybeard. I must die by the sword. I will die in honor. [From Blazing Tomb EP, self-released, out now.]
Face Facts – “Burnt Ends”
High Vis – “Talk For Hours”
Difficult is the sword’s nature, for it can only be unsheathed in the dark of night, or else at Hel’s black gates. Then shall you also enjoy the moment when you must choose between kindness for your kin and hatred for your enemies. [Stand-alone single, out now on Dais Records.]
Human Law – “No Worse Fate”
This is not the work of my god. This is trollish sorcery. [From Become Nothing, self-released, out now.]
Jab – “People Person”
Know that bearing a stolen ring makes no half-breed a king. Soaked in my blood, it will soon be sliding off your arm like a serpent. Your kingdom will not last. Let this misdeed haunt your living nights until a flaming vengeance scourges on your death. [From Promo ’22, self-released, out now.]
Mutually Assured Destruction – “Spirit Liberation” (Feat. Randy Blythe)
Forged by the deadliest war-smiths ever to crawl from under the Great Worm’s belly, a sword of the most secretive rare iron, bound with bone of the jötnar. Weightless in its owner’s had, yet like a dragon’s fang, its bite can never be dulled, never broken nor bend. Its blade could only be quenched in human blood. It is a battle flame like none other. Its name, Draugr the Undead. It is fated. [From Ascension, out 5/18 on Triple B Records.]