Saturday, March 27, 2010

SST Records + Canadian punk = The Subhumans' NO WISHES, NO PRAYERS (SST 18)

Right from the beginning, Canada's punk scene was a diverse and interesting one. The Subhumans are a vital part of that history. Their story starts in 1978 with the top notch DEATH TO THE SICKOIDS 7 inch, and the band, along with their British Columbian peers D.O.A., were one of the best examples of impassioned, unhyphenated punk rock energy to burst into the first half of the '80s. For the most part, punk is a genre best presented on the brief and sturdy vessel that is the 7 inch single. Long playing records very often expose the lack of ideas or focus which so many bands working with the slippery simplicity of punk have lingering underneath their admirable ability to conjure up a handful of great songs. Of course, there are enough extant exceptions to ultimately make this thought a general idea and not a rigid rule. Many great punk bands never managed to come anywhere close to the tightrope walk of recklessness and discipline that's needed to pull off the achievement that's a successful full length record, but the ones that did are deserving of high regard. The Subhumans, with their SST record NO WISHES, NO PRAYERS, land squarely in this upper echelon. What's most impressive about this record is how the music, essentially an extension of the melodic Brit-punk sound of the late '70s (going so far as to include a nifty cover of the Menace classic "Screwed Up"), is reverent to its source without sounding tired or irrelevant. By 1983, British Columbia was home to both the hyper speed weirdisms of The Neos and the "jazzy" progressions of Nomeansno, so the very straightforward approach that The Subhumans offered up was at risk of sounding antiqueish. That may seem like an overzealous statement, but five years, in musical terms, is a long time (To illustrate, consider this: A band, in 1969, that sounds like The Beatles in '64. Catch my drift?). That this record still sounds energetic and necessary a full flipping decade into the millennium after it was recorded leads me to the conclusion that it must have sounded positively cathartic in the year of its release. How sweet it would've been to have experienced it firsthand in a raggedy room full of bodies going bonkers with sweat and adrenalin and an obligatory police helicopter circling above the mayhem. The Subhumans were an exceptional blend of speed, snot, seriousness, fun, chops, and distortion, and even though they lack the idiosyncrasies of The Stains or The Dicks, that's no reason to slight them. I tip my cap.

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