Posted by: Addison – Aug 13, 2012
For a genre that often seems to define itself by its wildness and irreverence, it might seem conceptually inconsistent how reverent and bound-to-tradition much of hardcore tends to be. Behind the snarl, the vast majority of musicians attempting the style don't do much to push it forwards, instead looking back to some glory days that most were too young for the first time around. But the idea that hardcore is a largely codified aesthetic, one defined in many minds (whether rightly or not) by a fairly limited set of signifiers, doesn't undermine its potential fecundity. Hardcore's regenerative ability is mirrored by few other styles – for instance, despite Hasil Adkins or the Skatalites having made great music decades ago, I'd be hard-pressed to think of any rockabilly or ska albums made in my lifetime that are worth the material they're pressed on. It's almost paradoxical, but there are artists whose creativity is that much more defined because of how closely they can align themselves to a traditional aesthetic and still create memorable work.
Such is the case with Creem, who over the past year or two have produced a steady stream of demos and EP releases. A first listen to their newest, self-titled record reveals no real stylistic detours, either from their previous output or from the larger body of hardcore that draws on early 80s bands. Influences are fairly easy to spot – a solid helping of gruff thrash not far removed from SSD or Negative Approach, tempered with just enough bouncy UK 82 punk to render it all catchy – but the immediate recognizability of the work from which they're drawing doesn't undermine the songs' power. Each is energetic without becoming overly frantic, accessible without being especially melodic, basic without being dumbed-down.
And it's not simply the music that draws from Creem's antecedents, either. The lyrics rely on the sort of accusatory tone that's been a favorite of hardcore since the start, with the vast majority excoriating some unseen “you” who is fucking with the singer's friends, who has abandoned the singer, or who has wronged the singer in some way. However, despite the similarities in sentiment, it's far better expressed than the majority of “stabbed in the back” cliches employed by so many bands. Even the band's name itself is a reference to the now-defunct magazine that was among the first to use the term “punk rock” in print, and helped bring the nascent style to middle America (and who employed pretty much every notable rock critic – and that's not many – ever).
Bearing that in mind, by the time the last song, a cover of the relatively obscure English punk band Black Easter's song “What The Fuck,” comes around, the idea of the album as a sort of love letter to old hardcore and punk seems to come into focus. The choice of cover is really telling – whereas many observers focus on hardcore's more obvious “fuck you” sentiment, the “what the fuck” conceits were just as much, if not more so, a defining factor in the style's worldview. They were a clearer reflection of the practitioners' disillusionment, the simplest distillation of the feeling that comes upon realizing that all the idealism and attempts to institute the good laws of fellowship in mankind (or at the very least to do what it is that you want to do without getting fucked with by someone, somewhere) will not come to fruition. It's something more nuanced than just anger, a sentiment more universal and transcendent.
Creem basically aren't doing anything unheard of (unless a listener has never heard any hardcore bands, ever). But like the best haiku poets, they're able to create compelling, bracing work within what could be seen as an extremely constrictive form. They take their music beyond simple retro posturing or back-to-basics reductionism, imbuing it with an infectious energy and a raw, cathartic enthusiasm that stands as a great example of the way that punk rock can draw from its rich history without becoming immured in its cliches.
By Graham Scala