Unbeknownst to most people outside the US’ Deep South, Anarchitex have roamed the post-punk musical landscape of Houston, Texas for nearly three decades. Their cantankerous barrage of noise and pithy politics still remain far under the radar of even the in-crowd. Hopefully, their new well-honed record Digital Dark Age on CIA Records will finally crown them alongside other regional veterans like the Hates, Mydolls, Hickoids, and Sons of Hercules as survivors and sonic entrepreneurs, though with a more caustic underbelly than all combined.
Part of their raw genius sprouts from their messy and motley history. At various times, band members have been involved in projects far and wide, including Really Red, who toured America during the salad days of hardcore punk alongside acts like Articles of Faith; the artful, murky, and weird Pain Teens that released records on Trance Syndicate (founded by the drummer of Butthole Surfers); and equally wonky Happy Fingers Institute, a former favorite of the infamous underground zine Flipside.
While many of their brethren have receded into the dustbins of history, Anarchitex prove that resilience and fortitude, maintained in the name of rebel art without pause, can keep bands braided together. They ooze with productivity when most people go gray and give up. Eying eternal themes like US imperial hegemony, they are the conscience of contemporary punk rock, when Hot Topic and Vans Warped Tours have buried the movement in mass commercial appeal and endless fetish for commodities.
On this outing, they sink their lyrical fangs into the modern information society, with its confusion, failings, and false freedoms. Attacking at sleek angles with cut-throat irony, their emboldened wit is modulated by singer John Reen Davis’s kitchen sink realist poetry meets Dada cut-up style. Such efforts commingle in ravaging wordplay. For instance, “Button on a Lapel” invokes anti-nostalgia (“I’m too old to skateboard / I’m too old to care”) underscored by urban haiku, offered from the perspective of an angst-ridden bus rider surrounded by blue haired women and old men with Vaseline eyes.
In turn, the foreboding dark buzz of “Blank Wall” elicits a resemblance to former noise bands like Unsane, the post-hardcore of Washington, D.C. steeped bands like Monorchid and Circus Lupus, and the rosters of 1980s labels like Rough Trade, including bands such as Feedtime. The song eviscerates religion, martyrdom, war, and a future teeming with “99% of . . . people who do little more than take up space”. Both an ominous warning and acrid creed, it feels toxic in the ear.
“CaCa Convention” rails wholeheartedly against political and economic waywardness. With Midnight Oil-esque watery guitar licks and rhythmic rumbles, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” (sung by multi-instrumentalist and writer Torry Mercer) envisions trampled working-class heroes and ruined Yankee Doodle Dum innocence—the detritus of a collective American fantasy gone sour. Such sweeping visions mirror the sentiments of books written by Howard Zinn and John Dos Passos. Meanwhile, “Big Grey Boat” catalogs the invasions of Grenada, Nicaragua, and Lebanon, like bitter postcards from the dirge and pall of war zones.
In the band’s frame of reference, the tentacles of capitalism and war machinery go unchecked. History becomes a growing, unheeded list of atrocities. Still, despite the rancor and heavy-hitting judgments, the band does sneak in humor. “I Had a Science Fiction Childhood” is as looney and demented as a 1970s Ramones song. Mutants, electrodes, and matinee monster movies poke up in the narrative. Such outings may convey bleak, bastardized bubblegum punk, but the pop culture tour-de-force does feel lighter than most of the album’s anarchic bent.
“We Are More Intelligent” resembles the mid-paced Texas growl of the Big Boys at their early peak (minus the Boys’ off-kilter funk) and is chock-full of vehemence, howls, and aggression too. Such sloganeering might spit in the face of good-natured decency, but the band’s vitriol feels in league more or less with Lenny Bruce. They offer mock-violence cradled in language and wit.
Former enfant terrible Johnny Lydon might be a plastic facsimile of his former self, but these pasty men have not suffered such limelight and fate. They do not indulge in a radical rock ’n roll minstrel show, offer a sealed sound of 1982, or forge a sinister looking glass. Sure, they revisit punk worldviews with an untamed vengeance. They might be offbeat and left-wing, like book savvy boys in the newfangled, digitized reality, but their anger is inexhaustibly procreative. They are witnesses when most people are passive peons.
Casual listeners will decry the album as a loose-knit collection of bitter and demented harangues, or as no more than helter skelter explosive punk. Yet, a taut tunefulness does thrive in the landscape of their songs, like poetry stacked up against the mess-heap of the world. They wield their sentiments like a baton, with precision. Watch out for the arc of their swing.
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