Punk recordings unfettered by overdubs and studio trickery suggest bands chiseled into confident units by live performance. When groups vie to be heard over one another, night after night, in basements that lack proper sound equipment, they have to transcend the adversity. Bands gain chops just to be heard, and perceive the nuances of their bandmates more intuitively simply because they lack monitor speakers. Eventually they become more balanced, tight, and powerful performers, despite the spartan conditions. In the studio, capturing that live vigor becomes the goal.
This progression, based both in fact and in irresistible underground mythologizing, comes to mind in the case of Nervosas, a Columbus, Ohio, punk band whose recordings inform listeners that they are a band of three deft performers. Taut guitar riffs quiver at the end of each phrase. Echoing those motifs, rich and clear vocals flutter with a natural vibrato. Nervosas songs are economical. Sections of them tense up, release, and repeat, but tend to defy the typical patterns. Instead, they feel like constant ascension. The band heard on Nervosas' recordings performs with the New Flesh and Wild Assumptions on Thursday, March 13, at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records.
Is Purling Hiss a purveyor of nostalgic guitar pop marred by noisy tape saturation, or a proponent of piss-poor fidelity offset by hooks? Your pick reflects a bias. Both aspects of Purling Hiss — songcraft and sonics — are inseparable. One profiles the other in relief; the band's appeal is in its negotiation of the two. This solo is too long, this progression doesn't resolve itself, you may think, but a suspicion nags that conventional songwriting criteria are irrelevant anyway. The duality of Purling Hiss is reflected in the openers for its two Bay Area shows. At the Hemlock on Saturday, March 15, Purling Hiss headlines with squalid guitar miscreants CCR Headcleaner. The next evening at the Night Light, however, breezy pop outfits Fine Steps and Tiaras will perform first.
La Misma's recent EP on Toxic State Records boasts mid-tempo punk with whooping vocals, and sounds as if it was recorded in a cargo elevator free-falling towards certain clamorous destruction. Willfully poor recording, bizarre vocal affectations, and anti-social lyrics characterize most of the releases of Toxic State, a label whose New York-centric roster represents one of the country's most interesting and enigmatic underground music scenes. Hand screen-printed inserts peppered with cryptic slogans and grotesque illustrations create a cohesive visual aesthetic, while little packaging inconsistencies reinforce the homespun feel. With hardly any web presence and an aversion to traditional distribution, Toxic State releases nevertheless quickly sell out after they're announced. As for the bands, Crazy Spirit, Deformity, La Misma, and other label kin sound deranged and volatile, like a lifetime's worth of repressed tendencies are purged in brief screeds. They don't often tour out West, so suss out the secrecy when La Misma plays on Tuesday, March 18, at The Knockout.