While all music has its issues in terms of artist diversity and/or sexism, there has always been a unique attraction for non-men within the world of “hardcore” (a term originated in the late ‘70s that expressed a newer, quicker, and fiercer side of punk. It is responsible for helping establish the feminist musical movement, Riot Grrrl). Women began taking up the microphone and creating music they loved not only for that overt purpose but also to express the frustrations and prejudices they faced. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, prominent bands like Bikini Kill paved the way for female musicians to take up an instrument/microphone. Since then, and little by little, more and more women have been taking prominent roles in heavy music.
A relative newcomer to the hardcore punk world, Super Unison has its roots in the raw emotional power of vocalist Meghan O’Neil Pennie. If the name rings a bell, it’s because O’Neil Pennie used to front Bay Area hardcore outfit Punch (which was more of a straight-up hardcore act by comparison). Those aware of Punch will immediately pick up on both slight similarities and blunt differences on Auto, O’Neil Pennie’s first record with the band. The LP packs plenty of strong variety while also balancing out its surprises. It is a speedy album in all its ferocity and more pulled-back moments, and it stays enjoyable from beginning to end.
Whereas Punch never saw its attitude or volume drop below a ten, Super Unison offers more diversity in their range of auras and sounds. Opening song “Prove Yourself”, for instance, introduces a bright fuzz that accompanies O’Neil Pennie’s clean vocals wonderfully throughout the track. They are clean, strong, poetic, and organized, but with a ruggedness clinging to their edges, too. While there are bits of aggressive punk energy found there, the real kick comes with the following two tracks, “Keeper” and “Losing You”. Guitarist Kevin DeFranco is a strong component of what helps Auto be such a diverse work, and it’s on songs like these that we get an idea of the range found within the collection. While the former retains the opener’s brightness (with a speedy punk rhythm to boot), the latter kicks it up a notch to match O’Neil Pennie’s screams. In this way, Auto doesn’t present anything technically mind-blowing, choosing instead to focus on the tried and true method of the atypical shifting tempos found in punk. The album’s strength instrumentally is primarily found through aura and emotion (thanks to the usage of punk thrashing structure, as well as moments of rest through warmth and fuzz).
There are times at which that aggressive nature also finds itself masked in a new way, making for a “new sense of heavy”. Songs such as “You Don’t Tell Me” and “Time & Distance” keep the speed through their run time, but add either fuzz as moments of pause, or heft to each note. This use adds more to the emotional elements at play, with tracks like these permeating with a somber frequency and weight. True, these sorts of techniques can sometimes be overused, forcing the listener to experience emotion rather than letting it play out organically, yet with Super Unison there is that balance not just throughout the record but within specific songs that allow the listener to process sounds and emotions. While driving instrumentality is found on every track, the band never pummels repeatedly or lingers on somber energy; instead, they allow ample time to comprehend the message.
While the album is an instrumental treat, O’Neil Pennie is the star of the record, as her lyrics and vocals likely take the lead more than anything else (so the instrumentation acts as a tool to make it all the more effective). Every song on the record captures the essence of hardcore punk’s storytelling presence, and O’Neil Pennie’s use of cleans and screams only make those stories more prominent. Lines such as: “Listen here / Little girl / You know you’re living in a man’s world / It’s so hard / To hear you / We don’t think you tell the truth” ( “You Don’t Tell Me”) are but an example of the views and ideas to be found. Lyrically, there is desperation to open eyes to issues that surround our world to remind people that they are not alone in their struggles. Here, O’Neil Pennie once again stands in the spotlight as someone who’s not afraid to share his or her experiences and make for a positive presence in moving forward.
Auto is a wonderful mix of mystery, intrigue, and energy. Track after track hooks the listener with drive and emotion, making for a well-balanced instrumental, lyrical, and vocal treat. Many were upset with the break-up of Punch and Meghan O’Neil Pennie’s departure, but those folks will be happy to know that Super Unison is far more than just a strong return; it’s a memorable one, too. Super Unison continues to carry the torch for those who want to find their place in an art form that, on the surface, may appear to be a boy’s club, but contains rage and power for everyone from all walks of life.