Pretty much everything you need to know about the Coathangers is contained in “Hurricane”, the opening track to their third album, Larceny and Old Lace. Since the release of their self-titled debut in 2007, the band has developeed something of a cult following—inexplicably, to me—with its brand of shrill punk-thrash-twee. It’s as enjoyable as an ice pick to the ears, and obviously it’s meant to be. Then again, maybe it’s just an acquired taste, and I haven’t yet acquired it. If you find yourself nodding enthusiastically to this track, then you might want to settle in, because you’ll find plenty more to love.
But back to “Hurricane”. The tune opens with stomping, not-very-interesting percussion and a scratchy guitar line, soon backed by vocal “whoo-whoo"s and some solid bass. The verses, such as they are, are shrieked and incomprehensible—don’t worry, there’s a lyric sheet included with the record if you care to pore over bits of wisdom like “You’re like thunder, you’re like rain / You’re my little hurricane”. The chorus was apparently chanted by a nestful of harpies. It’s all about as pleasant as a trip to the dentist.
The rest of the album varies the sonic assault in various ways, while striving to ensure that there are only occasional moments of listenability. I like harsh music as much as the next guy and more than most, but the Coathangers manage to combine musical disharmony with a shrieky vocal delivery in a way that opens up whole new vistas of unpleasantness.
“Trailer Park Boneyard” opens promisingly—many songs do—with capable drums ‘n’ guitars, then lurches into flailing discord after the first verse, before reverting to that needling guitar line. Do you think that’s the last flailing discord we’ll be treated to on this song? Oh, you.
The start-okay-before-falling-apart thing happens frequently on this record, as if the band keeps having ideas for songs but then halfway through decides, “Screw it, there are already too many people playing songs incorporating melody and musicianship!” “Call to Nothing” contains probably the most annoyingly squeaky-voiced chorus in all of recorded music, and “Johnny” really is just screaming and noise. With a beat, yes, but screaming and noise nonetheless. “Well Alright” launches itself with a midtempo swagger and a tinkling piano line, and again the listener is tricked into thinking, “Hey, this song might be okay,” but the nails-on-the-chalkboard quality of the vocals soon derails the whole enterprise.
Not all songs are awful. “Sicker” is a convincing, lo-fi rocker that’s probably a blast to hear played live in a club, and “Jaybird” adds an organ line to its uptempo beat that somewhat ameliorates the ham-fisted musicianship. “My Baby” would be a pretty good song if not for those squeaky-little-girl vocals, and “Chicken: 30” is reminiscent of Hungry for Stink-era L7 in its skillful blending of guitar pummelling, lively percussion, and vocal layering. Album closer “Tobacco Rd” is a quiet acoustic song, apparently tacked on to prove that the singer can actually sing. Thanks for letting us know.
Fans of self-consciously aggressive music might enjoy the Coathangers’ take on the lo-fi, punk aesthetic. Sonically, there’s not much attempt to break out of the mold. Apart from the usual suspects—drums, guitars, vocals—there are occasional snippets of other sounds like keyboards, and even occasionally harmonized vocals. These are unusual, though. In general, the Coathangers like to keep things simple.