Review Summary: Watch me, motherfucker
Remember when heavy music was about the attitude and philosophy of standing out as an individual? Remember when it was about epic songs that soared with energy and campy harmony? Remember when liking this kind of music wasn't actually hazardous to your health? Well, unfortunately, I don’t, I wasn’t born…. and I’m going to wager neither were the majority of people listening to and appreciating this album. I was a metal kid, but I wasn’t initiated by the titans of the genre- I was swayed by the nu-metal of the 90s, the metalcore of the early 2000s, and then when I was in college, by the burgeoning deathcore scene. Then, the music started to become a game of ‘who’s the heaviest?’. The people I went to shows with started bitching that the music wasn’t doing it for them anymore, and would constantly be recommending new bands to me- seemingly based on how aurally similar they sounded to a cement mixer. Eventually, the crowd moved onto the wave of post-2000s hardcore, and that became the new in-thing in my circle- and only 30 years late. The new wave of the genre was all about grooves, violent energy and vicious breakdowns- basically, everything they liked about heavy music, stripped down to its bare ass. In all honesty, I could see the appeal; it required no thought process whatsoever. I tended to find, even with as puerile a genre as deathcore that it would often require a couple of listens to decipher the hideous melodies and find something to like behind all the spastic instrumentals. Yet the new school of hardcore needed none of that- it was like instant noodles in music form; just add youthful rage.
The difference is, in the thirty year interim between hardcore’s golden age and it’s ultra modern bastardization, the attitude changed. The staunchly-held beliefs that formed the maypole about which the genre could daintily skip had been uprooted, and replaced with a mosh pit, full of kids clamouring for a teeth-chatteringly violent beatdown. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, as the music has largely held true to its motifs, but it does mean that there is really no longer anything to rebel against. The artists rile the crowds up for pure spectacle, rather than as a statement. Regressive this may be, but also pleasantly simplistic and undemanding. This is the essence of Laugh Tracks
; a release of such unbridled hostility that it manages to effectively and memorably scream in the listener’s face, about precisely nothing, for it's entire runtime. The guitars are distorted with a tone like a 1000-decibel paper bag being crinkled up, the snare drum sounds like someone being repeatedly punched in the face, and the vocals balance precariously on the tightrope between angsty teen wailing and hoarse despair. So far, so modern hardcore. The truly impressive aspect of Laugh Tracks
, though, is the retaining of classic punk/ hardcore hallmarks, such as dominant bass grooves and ABAB riffing, but then injecting it with beatdown-esque rage. This somehow equates the classic styles and updates them, rendering the sound both overtly assaultive, but also disarmingly tuneful at points.
The absence of typical song structures is both a curse and a boon to the band’s sound. Within the genre overall, there is a seeming tendency to write a number of breakdowns and then string them together with slow builds. Thankfully, Laugh Tracks
generally steers clear of this trend, and manages to create a number of tracks with charmingly idiosyncratically additions. The bass interludes of 'Oblivion’s Peak' and 'Deadringer' are notable examples, the thrum of the bass every bit as heavy as needs be to fill the void. A barrage of instruments does not create heaviness, and Knocked Loose clearly understand this, choosing to rely on tone and production rather than the wall of sound many heavy bands try hard to incorporate effectively. Best noted on tracks such as 'Blood Will Have Blood' and 'Billy No Mates', these instrumental segues are appropriate and provide brief melodic respite from the chaos. The release’s fleeting length is another plus, as tracks are punchy and contained, rather than straining for the ‘brooding’ edge that is becoming popular on the scene. The essence of Laugh Tracks
is the attitude; the listener believes in the album’s energy and aggression, and that’s 80% of the work accomplished. 'Counting Worms' and 'No Thanks', express this sentiment perfectly- calculatedly brief, but caustic enough to leave a convincing mark amidst the albums other tracks. The experience overall is not clever, and it doesn’t want to be- it simply wishes to take advantage of the fact the listener has the same capacity for anger as is expressed on the album, and in that, it is a very successful venture.
is unadulterated rage, in sonic form. Anger is the most basic form of emotion in the human spectrum. Your boss gives you a hard time? Anger. Your internet cuts out? Anger. Your girl cheats on you? Anger. It is a response that acts as a base layer to virtually every negative emotion, and this is what the album understands. It doesn’t require you to make sense of it, decipher it, or understand it. It doesn’t demand anything, but your attention. A continuation of sorts of the band’s massively underrated EP, Pop Culture
, Laugh Tracks
engineers the same style, and incorporates a few other elements into the sound that doesn’t progress the band’s sound so much as thrash around in the pit they’ve already carved out for themselves. This pit is comprised entirely of youthful rage, and such a thing it is too. It allows a confused, warped view of the world to find meaning in the most mundane of things, and for ones in their youth, that sort of thing matters. However, to paraphrase comedian Brendan Burns, as you get older, mustering up fake anger is exhausting. You no longer really identify with the sense of rebellion that comes neatly packaged and ready to let loose. Still, for those jaded with the state of affairs in the world, and generally unaffected by attempted emotionality in the media, it is a rare treat when a release managers to rekindle that burning hatred that sits supressed at the base of your soul- and with Laugh Tracks
, there’s every chance that such a resurgence will happen. If enough people feel the same thing…. well, that’s more or less how punk began in the first place. Whether intentionally or otherwise, Knocked Loose have tapped into the mainline supplying hardcore with its’ bile, and purified it to a clarity that has no agenda or purpose, but to repeatedly kick your ass.