Review Summary: throw a spanner in the works..
Though never as blatantly abrasive or dissonant as either their label-makers or their anarcho peers, Reading punkers Zounds nevertheless occupy a vital spot in the British pre-hardcore subculture. Their assumed belonging to that niche was always a matter of their debut EP Can’t Cheat Karma
being released on Crass Records, a label set up by the namesake band in order to advance and expose the budding community of anarcho-punk outfits, then springing to life from England’s every corner. Poison Girls, Omega Tribe, The Mob, Honey Bane, Flux of Pink Indians and any number of those early progenies put out their first 7”s, EP’s and splits on the imprint, forging a new entity into the British scene.
By the band’s own accounts, their relationship with Crass was a rocky one, with the established band holding veto power over all recorded material, affecting the vocal tonalities (turning them more ‘punk’), and going so far as supplying a session drummer, ousting the band’s own percussionist from the studio. Still the raw charm of Karma
seeps from its every crease. Less f*cked-off at surface value, from an aesthetic angle, Zounds paid more tribute to proto-punkers like Modern Lovers and the Real Kids, locking into tight guitar patterns and laying their blue-collar politico lyrics over the top. Unlike the general MO of anarchist acts, they were prone to injecting short melodic breakdowns and letting the lines take prettier turns at times. That divergence from the presupposed set is felt most obviously in “Subvert,” as close as Zounds got to a staple number. Spikey and sporting a cheeky grin, the tune cruises more that it pummels, vocalist Steve Lake shouting off a snotty list of small acts of revolt one can infuse into daily life to keep the cops on edge. The song’s solo ditches the noisy anarcho squeal for a charge that’s much more tuneful, a strange little mutant of flamenco and surf rock. The slight murkiness of their tone also lent subtle post-punk touches to their fold, distancing them further from their roster.
That innate division from the scene ensured Zounds’ shelf-life to be a short one, the band splitting up in 1982, only 5 years after formation, and 2 years after this EP was first pressed. Its members would go the usual routes privy to their community, Lake taking a few members along to continue his modest vision without having to deal with the punk lifestyle that by then was already reaching caricature levels, with the rest of the band funneling out to nearby acts as touring members. They’ve reformed a few times through the 2000’s and 2010’s, and even put out a new LP in 2011. That first burst of boyish barbs, a precursor to the canonical The Curse of Zounds
, still feels as grimily endearing and integral as it did then.