Artist: Violent Soho
Album: Hungry Ghost
Tracks: 11 (+1 Bonus Track)
Release Date: 23rd September 2014 (US) 30th September 2014 (Canada)
Label: SideOneDummy (US) Dine Alone Records (Canada)
In celebration of the American and Canadian release of Hungry Ghost, we saw it fit to award Brisbane-based group Violent Soho the review we missed the first time around. Initially, Melbourne-based label I OH YOU thrust the band’s third studio album out into the Australian public on the 6th September 2013. However, in a flash of recent success, Violent Soho have signed to Dine Alone Records in Canada, and SideOneDummy in the US who are releasing the record on the 30th and 23rd September respectively.
It has to be said that Violent Soho working with these two labels is a compliment in itself and speaks volumes for the quality of the band’s work. Over the years, the two labels have worked with an impressive roster, releasing albums from acts such as The Gaslight Anthem, Alexisonfire, The Smith Street Band, City and Colour, At The Drive In, and Chuck Ragan.
The album is 11 tracks strong, and is an eye-melting pastiche of influence and style. There are times during this record I thought I was listening to an all-out punk record, much like their contemporaries on the labels they know find themselves on, yet at other times, I can hear hints on a 1990’s take on the grunge movement, where the vocals are harsh and can only be recreated by few special men without erupting in nodes, or ripping their larynx. As imperialist as I may sound, I can’t help but feel that in some light and angles, many Australian bands can be likened to British movements, with particular reference in this case, to the aggressive indie movement that first reared its head in the 1970’s with the Mods, and again in the 1990’s with acts such as Blur. For me, this is the big selling point. I don’t want to hear the same song for a straight hour, and equally I want to hear something in common that strings each song on a record together.
One of the most interesting points to note before you read anything about the album, is that a Hungry Ghost, is something originating in Chinese culture, and conceptualises beings that are driven entirely by intense emotion in a bestial manner, to the point where their grip on reality fades, appreciating nothing surrounding them, and focusing only on their emotional desire. In the English language the term can be used to describe the cravings of a drug addict, but between you and me, I much prefer to think of the Chinese outlook before heading into the record.
The first track is a song that goes by the name of Dope Calypso. Tom May from The Menzingers told Property of Zack that: “This song has everything I’ve ever fucking wanted from a song.” I have to say, you can see where he’s coming from. The introduction is an entrancing arpeggio, and instantly leads to the sort of drum beat you can feel hammering at your ribs. In about thirty seconds the guys in Soho are showing you how they mean to go on: violently, as their name suggests.
As the vocals come in, you’re greeted by the love-child of Tom DeLonge from Blink-182 and Brian Sella from the Front Bottoms, and that child is beautiful. The vocals are scratchy, as you would expect from any punk act, yet Luke Boerdam’s voice is not limited by its husk as other singers might be, for example Tom Waits, or Brian Fallon from The Gaslight Anthem. His voice remains smooth, which is a charming juxtaposition, difficult to describe. The notes he holds are melodic and tuneful but yet, you feel very anarchic singing along.
One of the highlights of the song is the choral band-shout at the end, it’s testosterone ping-pong, rallying with themselves: “All I say is all I know… And all I know is what you made me.” is the first serve, which is returned with: “It’s over, in pieces, it’s over, I’m alright.” It’s encouraging to see a song that still has time for the craft of writing a song instead of focusing only on the energy of the music.
One other track on the record that cannot go without mention is Saramona Said. The introduction is ushered in by a quiet, angelic choir blending into a typical Misfits drum beat, simplistic and yet cannot go unnoticed. The guitarist James Tidswell strums notes with care and precision, choosing the notes to harmonise Boerdam at all times, similarly to the way Tom May and Greg Barnett complement one another on their tracks. It’s difficult to pinpoint what it is about the track that is so endearing, all the instruments are simply composed, and the lyrics are evocative, but certainly no poetry: “I wanna pop this pill, because I’m a free man.” I believe that it is in the way it’s produced, the layering of all the sections is perfectly balanced, and deliberate when this is not the case. Michael Richards’ drums are loud, but don’t mask the vocal croak, the guitar is key, but does not deny Luke Henery’s bass its rightful place upon the mixing desk.
The following track, In the Aisle, is for me, one of the liveliest points on the album, and is the song that persuades me to go and see them live the most.The power chords are grungy and sloppy, the vocals come in hard on the drum beat, screams echo around the track in a way that tails off in an ‘I don’t care’ sort of way. The chorus: “Why does everything you say sound hollow?” is melodic and refers to a point I made previously; that the vocals can go from intensely punk chanting out the rhythm for a head-bang, and yet in an instant become tuneful and smooth without adopting the pop-punk moan of pre-pubescent men talking about bad break-ups. Overall, the song envelopes one aspect of the band I truly love; the drops, or the breakdowns. It’s a phenomenon known by many names and changes from genre to genre, but one thing is for certain, Violent Soho know how to build you up.
OK Cathedral is one of the more emotive songs on the album for me along with the title track Hungry Ghost. In many ways, it’s sort of like The Pixies, but someone has turned the overdrive up mid-set without them knowing. The music is slower, more morose and the vocals stay where they put. There’s no battle to be louder than one another, there’s no piece that doesn’t sit flush. It’s the gem of craftsmanship in a pile of wild and chaotic punk rock, that offers light-relief, and at the same time, takes nothing away from the energy of the album.
Conclusively, the album is a masterfully constructed piece of music. It blends styles of music that are all recognizable independently, yet when blended form their own concoction personal to Violent Soho. It’s packed full of energy, lyricism and emotion suitable for listeners of all predispositions.
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