Upon hearing the battering ram of bar-chord riffs that greet the listener on the opening track of Olympia, Washington punk group Strange Wild’s debut record Subjective Concepts, those familiar with the Northwest punk scene of the 1980s and 1990s will be instantly transported to one of the dozens of dingy, all-ages night clubs that lined the I-5 corridor between Portland and Seattle a few decades ago. The track, “Pronoia”, is textbook Northwest punk, that junction where the shouty, spiky anthems of the L.A. scene intersected with Sabbathian riffs and acid-rock crescendos, something that Portland legends Greg Sage and the Wipers excelled at in the early to mid-’80s, and something that Strange Wilds do pretty well on the finer moments scattered throughout Concepts. And more than just musically, a quick look at the song titles and lyrics (the ones that are decipherable anyway) bear more than a slight resemblance to classic Northwest 1980s punk, with themes of isolation, paranoia and mental illness, familiar to those who spend eight months of the year under oppressive dark-grey clouds.
And yes, in case you were wondering, Strange Wilds do owe a bit of their sound to that certain group formed just down the road in Aberdeen, as the explosive downer thrash of “Oneirophobe” and the chorused guitar line that runs throughout “Don’t Have To” are both absolutely unmistakeable. Indeed, someone with a cynical eye could look at the pairing of Strange Wilds and Sub Pop as a relationship of convenience, as simply a label’s way of stirring up provocative comparisons (like the above) to their heyday. One could also make the argument that the themes of social and economic alienation that populate most of the record’s tracks are as relevant now as they were in Reagan/H.W. Bush-era America, but whether that’s the case is up for substantial debate. Wild’s immediate surroundings in the Seattle-Tacoma area are vastly different than they were for Sage, and even Cobain, as the Northwest tech-boom of the 1990s radically altered the economic landscape once dominated by blue-collar logging and fishing families, and hardcore, middle-aged hippies.
But what salvages the record from being an exercise in nostalgia, are the moments where Strange Wilds drop the mid-tempo grungy gloom for moments of pure hardcore bliss, like the aforementioned “Pronoia”, the under-two-minute blast of “Egophilia”, or the fuzzy skate-punk of “Starved For”. The record’s no-frills production smartly pulls no punches, leaving the meaty guitars, snarling vocals and barreling drums front and center for duration of Concepts’ 35-minute running time. Still, it would have been nice to hear Strange Wilds invest their time in a more updated version of the regional punk sound they are so indebted to, and perhaps on their next offering they can take their muscular instrumental prowess and convincing penchant for shouty, anthemic choruses out from under the shadow of their label’s considerable past.