Bane singer Aaron Bedard’s voice is an acquired taste. It’s somewhere between a harangue and very loud storytelling. He doesn’t have much range, nor is his delivery virtuosic. But like other great hardcore punk singers, such as Youth of Today’s Ray Cappo and Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret, Bedard’s voice is instantly recognizable and has become something of a hardcore institution.
Now after four years of incessant touring, side projects, and a lineup change, Bane is back with a new album, The Note. Musically, The Note is more streamlined than Bane’s previous albums. The band began as a Converge side project, and its debut album, It All Comes Down to This, experimented with acoustic guitars and found sounds, while 2001’s Give Blood had smatterings of clean guitar. But The Note is hardcore punk through and through, with little sonic filler. Mid-paced grooves dominate, with occasional bursts of speed, and mostly avoid the chugga-chugga breakdowns so typical in hardcore today. While the band has never sounded tighter or more focused, the piano breakdown in “Pot Committed” and the anthemic singing in “Swan Song” are nice, underused touches.
In general, more sonic variety would have been nice, given the overly clean production. The mix is clear and punchy, but the guitars are a little subdued, and the vocals are too loud and sound separated from the rest of the band. As with much of hardcore punk, though, the lyrics are as essential as the music here. Given the honesty and passion of the lyrics, the vocal presence is excusable.
The subject matter here covers mostly two things, friendships and hardcore punk. But the lyrics go surprisingly far for such limited scope. Bane is famous for its stance against violence at shows, and the album contains a song (“Pot Committed”) about this topic (“And I don’t say that with some bullshit sense of pride / I need you to know that I’m not done screaming / About whether or not your foot has the right / To be in some kid’s face”). This is a degree of self-reference perhaps only possible in hardcore (but if metal has any songs about headbanging, or if indie rock has any songs about, well, not dancing, do share). The album also contains two of Bane’s signature anthems directed at its fans, “Hoods Up” and “My Therapy”. The latter ends with two of the most rock ‘n’ roll lines ever penned (“There is no mistake that I’m not free to make / All because of six strings stretched across a board”).
The album artwork contributes mightily to the package. Bane albums have always had rich, interesting artwork, and The Note is no exception. The liner notes contain hand-drawn vignettes in one man’s everyday life, as well as a comic depicting that man reading a note handed to him by a flaming person jumping out of a building. The concept sounds absurd, but it’s well-done, and helps gives depth to what are otherwise cut-and-dried lyrics.
As a whole, The Note is solid, if a bit sterile. Perhaps a better introduction to Bane would be the fiery Give Blood album, or one of its many live shows (the band tries to play places twice a year). Buy some merch (Bane has one of the most distinctive logos around) and dance hard — but watch where your feet go.