It isn’t until the final third of EP01, released quietly in March by Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings, that noise-rock supergroup Human Impact truly serve up the goods. With the one-two sock to the gut of “Transist” and “Contact”, the band reaffirm all the grime and wonderful nastiness of last year’s self-titled debut and positively drip with joy at the chance to revisit the site of the crash. There’s a wonderful moment about halfway through “Transist” where electronic-man Jim Coleman doles out an oddly menacing synth refrain over Chris Spencer’s barbed-wire guitars. Spencer, ever the frontman, punctuates the juicy discontent of the moment by wailing “Freedom / Wasn’t so free” and another few words under a mountain of grungy caterwaul. And it isn’t so much what he says – much of that is often lost in the mix – as much as how he wails it, furious but resolved to defeat, the lost citizen of the modern world beaten down by Human Impact’s titular brand of urban decay.
And what should listeners make of that decay? It is surely of a place, even if that place largely exists in the memories of down-and-out artists, musicians, bohemians, and general trouble-makers who seek desperately to recall it. New York City, where Human Impacts roots are planted, was a great breeding ground for the nihilist tendencies of punk and noise-rock under David Dinkins’ mayoral term in the early 1990s. Human Impact’s CV can attest to that. There were the mismanaged riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and the crack epidemic was ravaging several neighborhoods; with the former, in particular, it only made sense that a band named Cop Shoot Cop would capture the zeitgeist of the moment.
But, as the history books are sure to remind us, the mayor and future Trump con man Rudy Giuliani took the ball, ran with it from there and, some claim, jump-started an urban “renaissance” (groan) heavy on wiping out the old and heralding the new. Gone from the vision of the Big Apple was the dirty underbelly of the 1970s in Manhattan’s bottom half. Gone was any trace of a dirty underbelly at all as the dollar-sign developers and multi-millionaires descended to reclaim their portion (and then some) of what remained.
So, how does an “NYC band” like Human Impact, never mind one with a pedigree of Unsane, Cop Shoot Cop, and Swans, define this moment of COVID-19 dystopias and racial tension – in NYC, on the East Coast, throughout the US, and in the world? EP01 sadly doesn’t answer that question, often instead sounding like a carefully refinished relic over which to get all doe-eyed and nostalgic. Don’t turn to Spencer for contemporary treatises. The man’s just angry and wants to blow off some steam. In this way, Human Impact are almost as complicit as the CBGB resurrectionists in glorifying a long-gone moment. But the quartet don’t seem to care. On the new eight-song EP, consistency is the name of the game, and the band seem to revel in carting out B-sides and outtakes that are, often, just as good as the stuff that ended up on 2020’s debut LP.
Yes, yes, for those waiting for verdicts, the songs are good. “Transist and “Contact” notwithstanding, the faux-closer “10 Days” has a bass-swinging swagger that does Tod A. proud. Spencer’s clattery guitar work and, again, that voice of dissent seal the deal on that one. (The record’s closing track of white noise, “Subversion”, should have been cut – or cut down from its grinding 6:30 run time.) “Recognition”, which opens the proceedings, has a great soaring guitar lead that comes burning and raging bright right out of the gate – and drummer Phil Puleo is at his snare-pounding best. The band was wise to lead with that one as the single. “Genetic”, which the band previously released as an outtake of sorts, is as nasty and engaging as anything off Cop Shoot Cop’s “Release,” no small praise.
Some will wonder where a band like Human Impact fits in Joe Biden’s America. While the group were dead to rights to release an LP about dystopia and discontent shortly before the world went into COVID-19 quarantine (good timing), they don’t seem to fit the current narrative. Or do they? Maybe a set of guys pissed off at the way the world is running is just what we need to grind out some of this pandemic ennui. Again, the band don’t meet the listener with any answers on EP01. Maybe they shouldn’t. These guys are best when they just roar.