DAILY RECORD: Talk Is Poison

by | Aug 9, 2010 | MUSIC

Talk Is PoisonRage To Infinity (Self-Released)

The late ‘90s weren’t exactly a creative pinnacle for hardcore. Many of the bands who had created the best material of the previous decade had either broken up (Los Crudos, His Hero Is Gone) or started turning out subpar material in an attempt to curry favor with larger crowds (Integrity). A great number of people were enraptured by metalcore and pop-emo, genres that would soon use underground music as a stepping stone to Hot Topic and MTV2 “success.” But there were exceptions, and Oakland, California’s Talk Is Poison was one of the most notable. In their brief existence – the band released only two and a half EPs worth of material between 1998 and 1999– they managed to put to shame pretty almost all of their contemporaries with a combination of unbridled aggression, off-kilter songwriting, and a lyrical approach which offered a defiant, scathing vision of the degradation and abuse inherent to late capitalist society, without relying on cheap sloganeering or cliché.


Talk Is PoisonRage To Infinity (Self-Released)

The late ‘90s weren’t exactly a creative pinnacle for hardcore. Many of the bands who had created the best material of the previous decade had either broken up (Los Crudos, His Hero Is Gone) or started turning out subpar material in an attempt to curry favor with larger crowds (Integrity). A great number of people were enraptured by metalcore and pop-emo, genres that would soon use underground music as a stepping stone to Hot Topic and MTV2 “success.” But there were exceptions, and Oakland, California’s Talk Is Poison was one of the most notable. In their brief existence – the band released only two and a half EPs worth of material between 1998 and 1999– they managed to put to shame pretty almost all of their contemporaries with a combination of unbridled aggression, off-kilter songwriting, and a lyrical approach which offered a defiant, scathing vision of the degradation and abuse inherent to late capitalist society, without relying on cheap sloganeering or cliché.

Now, a decade after the fact, the newly-resurrected Talk Is Poison have once again unleashed an absolute steamroller of a record. Rather than offering an uninspired retread of their early days, the band seems to have taken cues from the metallic crust punk of Japanese bands like Bastard and Death Side as opposed to the discordant Econochrist/Born Against-style work of their previous records. And while it has become extremely fashionable of late to claim the influence of old Japanese bands, most bands that attempt the style end up sounding like Tragedy waking up from a long nap – no shortage of doom and gloom, but lacking the frenzied energy of the original. There is a hint of the old Talk Is Poison style – otherwise catchy melodies thrown askew with sour dissonance – but there are also Motorhead-worthy guitar solos on the title track and a bouncy homage to early UK anarcho-punk on “Keep The Peace.”

Lyrically, the band also has shifted focus. Whereas before the lyrics were a blend of the bleak and the oblique, the newest record has a straightforwardness which may not be as subtle, but possesses a compelling power all its own. The title song is an excellent example of the manner in which their attitudes have been tweaked over time. Whereas a substantial number of punk bands have utilized apocalyptic imagery, most seemed to consider it a nightmare scenario. And though Talk Is Poison has never been shy about their apocalyptic intimations, there is a newfound dualism to the approach: there is the fatalism of “Everyday Apocalypse” with its sense of resignation to the environmental degradation wrought by mankind, but then there are songs like the title track which seem to welcome cataclysm. “Pack up your gear, gather family and friends / load up your clips because we ride tonight,” howls singer Will Harris, and it’s not hard to get the impression that he means it. This is not the end of the world in the sense of a linear existence with clear-cut beginning and end. The empowerment behind lines such as those suggests a rebirth and renewal through purging, a less-traveled path into the murky forests of the future. This path can only be reached when they “unleash the guitars” and “let the drums explode,” as if some semblance of utopia will only be achieved when instruments of creation replace implements of destruction. Which is not to say that the rest of the record shares such guarded optimism. There are the diatribes against standard punk rock nemeses – the military, the police, corporate monoculture, etc. – but any possibility that the songs could become bogged down in hopelessness is kept in check by the absolute fury with which the band rages against the dying of the light.

In the forgiving light of nostalgia, it is easy to lean towards hyperbole. But Talk Is Poison’s newest release is not one of the best hardcore releases this year because of what the band did over a decade ago. It succeeds because of what it is doing right now, because it possesses an even-handed defiance which transcends both the facile rebellion of so many sing-along punk bands and the hopeless nihilism which the machinations of the modern world are so quick to instill in the most hopeful and idealistic minds. Without a doubt, an essential release for anybody who wants their sound and fury to signify something meaningful.

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.




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