DAILY RECORD: Punch

by | Sep 9, 2010 | MUSIC

Punch – Push Pull (Discos Huelga/625)

One extremely hungover summer morning a few years ago I was fighting the pounding in my head, struggling to keep my morning coffee from coming right back up, and trying in vain to figure out what had happened to me the previous evening. My heart sank into my turbulent stomach when I checked my e-mail. At the top of my inbox was an enthusiastic thanks from some band I had apparently offered to book a show for in my bourbon-induced stupor. I really hate booking shows. It’s a thankless pain in the ass that’s rarely worth the effort, at least in my own experience. What was worse was that this was apparently a hardcore band I had agreed to arrange a show for and I was right in the thick of one of my occasional periods of disinterest in such bands. Before trying to weasel out of the show, however, I figured I might as well at least check them out, since they’d obviously impressed me enough to extend the invitation. And I’m glad I did. I ended up booking the band – San Francisco’s Punch – in Richmond several times, and through their performances and their releases, they have proven themselves to be purveyors of some of the best hardcore of the past decade.


Punch – Push Pull (Discos Huelga/625)

One extremely hungover summer morning a few years ago I was fighting the pounding in my head, struggling to keep my morning coffee from coming right back up, and trying in vain to figure out what had happened to me the previous evening. My heart sank into my turbulent stomach when I checked my e-mail. At the top of my inbox was an enthusiastic thanks from some band I had apparently offered to book a show for in my bourbon-induced stupor. I really hate booking shows. It’s a thankless pain in the ass that’s rarely worth the effort, at least in my own experience. What was worse was that this was apparently a hardcore band I had agreed to arrange a show for and I was right in the thick of one of my occasional periods of disinterest in such bands. Before trying to weasel out of the show, however, I figured I might as well at least check them out, since they’d obviously impressed me enough to extend the invitation. And I’m glad I did. I ended up booking the band – San Francisco’s Punch – in Richmond several times, and through their performances and their releases, they have proven themselves to be purveyors of some of the best hardcore of the past decade.

Push Pull, the band’s newest release, continues down the path established by their previous EP, Eyeless, and their self-titled debut full-length; short blasts of unbridled aggression, slower heavy parts, and hints of melody which make the songs memorable and nuanced without turning them poppy or corny. Each release has seen this sound evolve slightly, however, and this album is no exception. While the first record was striking for its balance of Infest-style speed and lumbering breakdowns that wouldn’t have been out of place on an Unbroken record, and the second album featured a heightened emphasis on melody, Push Pull takes a more measured songwriting approach. Which isn’t to suggest that the music is slower or less confrontational by any means, but there seems to be more importance placed on instrumental interplay and more complex arrangements than the band had demonstrated before. A band like Extortion comes to mind as a reference point, but while that band is beholden to a small circle of influences (though they reflect them extremely well), Punch seems simultaneously broader in what they draw from and more specific in the manner in which the music is applicable to the commonplace experience of the members.

As stated before, the music is not far removed from previous albums, but the interplay on songs like “No Remorse” or “Sour Grapes” goes a long way towards setting Punch apart from legions of other hardcore bands. The minimalism of the songwriting can be frustrating at times, though. There are parts – the end of “Realist,” for instance – which have a brevity that undermines some of the power. Normally it’s not much of a criticism to suggest that the listener is left wanting more, but in instances like these, it can be distracting how quickly great elements fly by. But for every truncated moment there are others, like the end of “Fixation,” that draw out a well-placed slower part; or songs like “Positively God Free” that juxtapose slow and fast, dissonance and melody, and really showcase one of Punch’s strong suits – the graceful balance of opposing elements.

Lyrically, not much is left to the imagination. There is a terse quality to the songs which, rather than undermining any of the ideas, allows the lyrics to sidestep both unnecessary verbosity and the sort of overly simplified “this is good / I hate this” style so many hardcore bands fall prey to. There is a tug-of-war going on in the lyrics between the sense of positivity necessary to confront everyday bullshit with a clear head, and the sort of everyday bullshit which can easily erode that same positivity. While a song like “Positively God Free” leaves little question as to where the band stands on religion, the song forsakes reactionary knee-jerk atheism in favor of lines like “Sometimes in life / when everything works out / I have to believe in something / I’ll believe in me.” The album excoriates bigotry, complacency, and conformity, and while many of the songs are written in the accusatory second person perspective (the “you” that’s been the target of hardcore’s lyrical ire since “I Don’t Wanna Hear It” and “My War”), the perspective never seems like it’s being handed down from a soapbox. Instead, the listener gets the impression that these are hardcore songs as exorcisms – daily frustrations, stripped of (some of) their power to destroy and degrade by the cathartic power of the music. A line like “Everything is shit because you make it so / You’re fucking up your life because you can’t let go” is not an unfamiliar sentiment in Punch’s genre, but it’s expressed concisely and passionately enough that it can transcend posi-core cliché and become something more meaningful, a common point of reference between musician and listener–that of an easy frustration to experience, a difficult one to overcome.

Punch’s attempt to reach the listener at that middle point is one of the most striking and compelling elements to their music. Theirs are songs imbued with personality and distinctiveness and informed by many of hardcore’s earlier pinnacles without falling victim to the posturing of insert-a-year rehashes. All the band comparisons and lyrical analysis in the world can’t adequately sum up the power of their music, and while Punch’s music might not win the war against the things their songs decry, they bravely fight the battle, not only confronting the world’s frustrations and injustices but managing to outdo themselves and just about every band in their genre with each successive release. It becomes rarer with each passing year that I find any bands like this, bands which reflect the spirit that attracted me to punk rock in the first place. However, Punch is without question one of those bands.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.




more in music

Finding My Way to Tommy Stinson and Peter Jesperson

As any exciting story begins, it was a Monday night and my plans had just been canceled. With the news of my new availability, I decided to take up a friend on an offer. The scene takes me to a familiar spot, a beautiful home across the river with a small lit sign...

Wave That Flag! Richmond’s Pride 2024 Events Are Here to Slay

We are a little late on this but Virginia Pride has unveiled the schedule for its annual "Endless Summer of Pride" campaign, a celebration of the Richmond region's LGBTQ community. The campaign kicked off on May 31 with a pride flag-raising ceremony at City Hall,...

Mdou Moctar, Los Malcriados & Kendall Street Company: Sound Check

It's a busy time of year, with kids getting out school, vacations being planned who knows what else on the docket, but that doesn't mean you can't time for a little music in your life. All over the city all week long you can find it if you're looking, but let me give...

Sir Chloe, Charged Up Fest & IONNA: Sound Check

The energy in the city is palpable as the Memorial Day has passed, the cultural summer is officially in full swing and music is everywhere. This week Friday Cheers is back on with Sir Chloe headlining backed up by Richmond's very own Prabir Trio and Miami's Deaux...

Topics: