One the finest attributes of hardcore is its efficiency. Economical, direct and often uncomfortably candid, great hardcore is defined by its skillful ability to cut right to the chase. Who needs a superfluous plot when you’ve got some feedback-soaked, whip-snapping punk rock, with gruff vocals, discordant riffs and frenzied percussion that can all stop on a dime? Lean and mean, that’s what counts, and you’re not going to find much leaner or meaner in 2011 than Ugly Animals, the debut full-length release from Southern California’s Retox.
The band’s debut roars past in a scant 13 minutes, with 11 tracks of short, sharp and seriously ugly erratic hardcore—mixed with a little eccentric grind to boot. Retox consists of Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian of The Locust fame, along with Michael Crain and Thor Dickey. Their first public announcement was in the form of a self-titled and self-released EP in 2010, and they’ve now moved on to crafting a full-length debut (although “full-length” might be a bit of a misnomer).
Justin Pearson’s role in the boisterous end of the avant-rock underground is well known. The Locust, his famed turbo-grinding electro/noise outfit, has released many a celebrated album. The band’s mix of heavily distorted sci-fi synth and mathcore guitar precision, along with a reputation for intensely passionate live performances, has secured its status as a consistently innovative outfit, and one not afraid to roam around in some genuinely bizarre territories.
Anyone expecting a repeat of The Locust’s idiosyncrasies on Ugly Animals is set to be disappointed. While the album still retains a sense of the absurd—how could it not at a mere 13 minutes—Retox is a far more streamlined ensemble. The band focuses on an unswervingly raw aesthetic, discarding any excessive musical ideas or technological tricks, and Ugly Animals is far cruder and unprocessed than any Locust release. All the tracks are unpolished and highly abrasive, and while the brevity of the entire affair might be off-putting for some, Ugly Animals is fairly accessible, especially if you’re a fan of wretched chaos.
Its accessibility comes down to the fact that Ugly Animals is all about kinetics. It’s not often a band produces an album that actually sounds as hostile or energetic as intended, but there’s so much blistering antagonism on here that it essentially forces you tune in—which is obviously not going to be an issue time-wise because the longest track, “Piss Elegant”, clocks in at a little over two minutes, and the rest blast by in short, flammable bursts.
A song-by-song deconstruction of the album would be counterproductive, as Ugly Animals clearly isn’t made for deeper analysis. It starts with “The World Is Ending and It’s About Time”, ends on the aforementioned “Piss Elegant”, and in between it’s just merciless violence and claustrophobic intensity. You still get a dose of Pearson’s morbidly surreal wittiness; check some of the song titles for that—“Ten Pounds of Shit In a Five Pound Bag” and “A Bastard on Father’s Day”. And although the album is resoundingly disharmonic, it still retains a sense of structure, with enough riffs and fills to provide a few hooks to hang onto.
Ugly Animals is not an easy listen. But then, that was never the band’s intention. It’s not simply gratuitous noise either. Retox clearly have a point to make. The band’s belief that it’s a “reaction to stagnant and boring cultures, as well as the countercultures that have slipped into a sea of pointlessness” is proven beyond a doubt (you’d be hard pressed to criticize its overall zeal) but how you feel about the actual content of the album is ultimately going to rest on your ability to digest 13 minutes of unrelenting misery and entropy.
If you’re a fan of rip-roaring hardcore, Ugly Animals will be an absolute treat. As the band has been very clear about who its intended audience is—the frustrated and disenfranchised—then you’d have to say the album is a complete, if exceptionally brief, success.