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Listen Up, Nerds: The Week of 10/13/23

Listen Up, Nerds: The Week of 10/13/23

Happy Friday the 13th. This is a day traditionally associated with bad luck and misfortune, but on the other hand, you’re the recipient of a brand new Listen Up, Nerds Newsletter. Lucky you.

As always, submissions are open for review. Tell your punk friend to send music to: jay@listenupnerds.com

Mil-Spec - Marathon

The most forward-thinking band in hardcore returns with a brilliant and vivid reverie on headstrong adolescence and solemn existence in a world waylaid by disease.

When Lockin’ Out released Mil-Spec’s World House in September 2020, I ordered the record from the room in the MoMA with the big Jeff Koons sculpture of the Pink Panther hugging Jayne Mansfield. It’s a garish, tasteless work that made me look back at my phone to do what I considered to be much more important at the time. For most of the day, I was preoccupied with the world inside my phone, even while surrounded by some of my favorite art, Rothkos and Matisses and Ruschas and Johns’. I just couldn’t pull myself away from what I was used to at the time. I couldn’t focus on physical connections after half a year of digital connection.

World House is a masterpiece of modern hardcore. It marked the death of the “democore” subgenre but it wasn’t a funeral, it was a celebration of life. It’s a hardcore album, sure, but it’s a thoughtful hardcore album. Matt Laforge’s lyrics are about as well-read and referential as you get in hardcore. World House is this unheard-of combination of William Gibson's literary themes filtered through the lyrics of Gord Downie and sung by a jet engine over music from the 2004 Posi Numbers festival DVD. I know that sounds like a lot because it is a lot but stick with me. World House is a contemplation on the world at large, how our digital lives intersect with our aspirations and emotions, and our inability to compartmentalize these realities.

In 2020, something happened. We all had to go inside for a while. We couldn’t hang out with friends. Even if we could, was it safe to shake my friend's hand? Could I hug my friend? The digital bonds were our safest ones. You and I weren’t alone ever unless we wanted to be. We always had the internet. 

When you were young, did you think you had it all figured out? I know it’s a trope but did you think you were right about everything? When adults said, “You’re young and you young people think you’ve got it all figured out,” did you ever say to yourself, “Right, but I do have it figured out”? 

Because that’s what Mil-Spec’s new record, Marathon, feels like. It’s imbued with the spirit of youth at its most rebellious and introspective. Marathon is an album determined to not let the inner teen die. It’s a record about doing right by your past, present, and future selves because it’s all the same person. When all we had was ourselves, did you spend enough time looking in the mirror? Was it too much?

Rightfully so, many people have mentioned the track “Belle Époque,” in their reviews of Marathon. It’s the odd man out on the record as it’s a 5-minute story read by vocalist Andrew Peden’s wife about Mil-Spec’s time in Texas with the late Riley Gale and playing Power Trip’s Evil Beat festival in January 2020. I don’t have to recall the events that took place that year, but we know that nothing went the way that anyone planned in 2020. The Belle Époque was a time period when art and technology flourished right before World War I broke out. Mil-Spec intended on playing more shows and releasing their album in 2020 without the global pandemic serving as a backdrop for it. The song ends with the line, "That was the plan." It's a resigned delivery, it is not hopeful for the future.

On both of their LPs, Mil-Spec includes re-recorded versions of songs they previously released. Elements of the lyrics to their song “Time After Time” on 2017’s America’s Hardcore Vol. 4 reappear in different places all over this record. The record ends with "Just Our Imagination," a song they released almost 4 years exactly before the release of Marathon. It feels more like a hat-tip to an older version of the band than anything else. The rendition of "Just Our Imagination" on Marathon does something interesting where the recurring chorus of, "It's just our imagination," goes from several vocalists on the 2019 version to only one on 2023's. It's just as forceful and powerful but it's a change from strength in numbers to the strength of the individual. The album ends on a stanza where the listener is reminded that everything you and I could ever want, every future we've ever imagined, is out there and it's possible. It's just waiting for us to make it reality.

This is my favorite album released this year. It’s by far my favorite hardcore record released this year. There’s really nothing that comes close. In a year full of perfunctory knuckle-dragging hardcore and riffy pop-punk parading as something subversive, Mil-Spec dropped an album that should make listeners look away from the auditory Koons sculptures of the scene and buy a Mil-Spec record. 

Listen Up, Nerds

Citrus - Citrus EP: I was digging around on bandcamp as usual and I found this band called Citrus, and their cover art said “The Best Band In The World” so I had to give it a listen. I respect bombast above most things. This is a cool EP, it’s very heavy and bouncy and not terribly pretentious but also, it doesn’t fall into the Radio Rock trappings of other bands in the alt/gaze sphere. No vocal strain, no sounding like NASCAR commercials, but not art school-y. Do I think Citrus is as good as fellow California shoegaze band Cold Gawd? No. So they’re not the best band in the world but I think this is a pretty rad EP that’s worth a download if you like shoegaze-tinged alt-rock that has a lot of promise. 

Downward/Trauma Ray - Split 12”: Speaking of unpretentious alt/gaze, this new split from New Morality Zine just dropped last week. The two bands on here play shoegaze music for headbangers, which is a special niche to find yourself in. Similar to the Citrus EP, it’s not pretentious, it’s just good rock with big riffs. Honestly, there are a ton of bands doing this kind of music now and we all know it. You can’t throw a rock without hitting four guys in duck canvas jackets who play “alt-rock-inspired shoegaze” or something like it. I don’t think that’s bad but it does have to be considered, and I think both of these bands are just outside of the norm to where it works very well for both. Downward’s more emo, Trauma Ray is more rockin’. There’s something here for everyone without stepping on toes. There’s nothing worse than forgetting which side of the split you’re listening to.

T-800 - T-800: Last week, I sent out a newsletter full of big, nasty, scary, heavy bands with spiked shoulder pads or maybe even one of those nose rings that connects to an earring with a big chain but not in the Krishna way, in a crusty way. This is a band kinda like those but where T-800 differs is that these dudes know how to put some BOUNCE in these songs. Much like the Designated Mosher’s Unit music I posted last week, this is Scary Guy Music that’s also fun to dance to. That’s an important niche to fill. This is much less noisy than the Yield To None record, which means that T-800’s choppy guitars sound like M60 fire from a helicopter not 20 yards above you. “By Design” is a top-5 heavy song this year. I’m wowed. More people stateside should be up on this record and by sending it your way, I am imploring you to send it to your friends who like heavy wildman music like this. It sounds like a burning building or a bulldozer driving into your home. You gotta check it out.

No non-music recs this week, I spent most of the week watching sports and reading Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. My San Jose Sharks are going to find a way to break my heart even further. I can feel it coming this year.

Thanks for reading