Thursday, June 25, 2015

The shape of punk to come


"This is our love song. It's called 'Hating Is Easy'." It's safe to say that Cassels aren't romantics. And they aren't likely to play an Age Concern charity gig any time soon, either, given that new song 'Ignoring The Tunnels And Lights' (written yesterday, we're told) is about getting old and "carrying on when you should just give up".

What they are, however, is a pair of snotty, precocious nihilists who sound like Iceage experiencing a particularly messy and violent breakdown after bingeing on cheap gin and even cheaper speed. Their songs are ragged and raw, threadbare in places, permanently teetering on the brink of complete collapse but somehow holding together against the odds. This, it should go without saying, is A Very, Very Good Thing indeed.

'The World Doesn't Need Another You Or Me' is essentially a punk rewiring of Philip Larkin's infamous poem 'This Be The Verse' ("They fuck you up, your mum and dad..."). For those of us who are already parents, it's too late to heed the warning, so the best we can do is to spread the word. Consider it done.

As bad ideas go, having to follow Cassels is right up there with the worst, especially with music that is so solid and predictable. Likewise, ex-hardcore types softening up and showing off their sensitive side should be criminalised. Lincoln's Bad Ideas, enjoying their first ever visit to Oxford, are full of bonhomie at the end of a four-night tour with the evening's headliners, so it seems a bit mean not to reciprocate. But their clunky, functional, in-touch-with-its-feelings punk isn't really punk at all, even if their anthemicism and sense of melody evidently come as a blessed relief to the ears of those left shell-shocked by what has gone before.

It's much the same story with Tellison, whose affable frontman Stephen Davidson thanks the "very respectful crowd" for not throwing bottles or coins ("Coins are accepted, though - and bank cards, cheques, postal orders...") but whose music is equally mild-mannered, recalling the preppy, singalong, heart-on-sleeve emo of The Get Up Kids and The Promise Ring. Sorry chaps, but no amount of woahing and ohing can disguise the dearth of memorable hooks, while token slowie 'Freud Links The Teeth And The Heart', an apparent crowd favourite about being smitten with your dentist, is more excruciating than root canal surgery.

Punk, loosely defined, can be many, many things - but feelgood? No. Punk gigs shouldn't be group hugs. Give me Cassels' ill-tempered, antagonistic, scabrous, feral, risk-taking racket any time.

(An edited version of this review appears in the July issue of Nightshift. You can hear Cassels interviewed by BBC Introducing in Oxford's Dave Gilyeat here, talking about their forthcoming T In The Park appearance among other things.)

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