By Oliver Arditi
When I reviewed The Domestics’ debut release, on a CD in a jewel case, looking like a regular album, I noted that despite clocking in at just over twenty minutes, it seemed to have considerably more to say than most albums, which usually spend in excess of an hour saying it. Well, this eight-and-a-half minute wafer of yellow vinyl seems designed to drive the point home even more emphatically. There are six songs, a number comparable to the tracklisting of many ‘full length’ albums, and all of them have a great deal to say. While it’s true that many longer pieces of music need the time they take, and that the passage of time during the listening experience may be an aspect of musical meaning, the fact remains that there are albums released every day that spend many times the duration of The G.D.P. E.P. saying considerably less. Yes, this is a hardcore punk record, but I don’t simply mean that it’s ‘all about the message’; there are musical ideas here, plenty of them, and the songs are well-structured, with at least as much dramatic or narrative content as the average pop-song. Clearly concision is a deliberate strategy here, a creative decision that’s central to the band’s sound; musical and lyrical ideas are stated, and while there is certainly some strophic repetition, points are not laboured. The purpose (and meaning) of this formal economy is obviously not what it was when such strategies first appeared in the initial few waves of punk music; then it was a reaction against the overblown and long-winded creative bankruptcy of the rock establishment, an expression of unthinking anger, catharsis and self-expression. There are those elements here, I suspect, but this is a more reflective application of compositional tropes that are getting on for forty years old. These angry, political songs are paradoxically haiku-like in the simplicity and precision of their statements.
The arrangements on The G.D.P. E.P. have a lot of light and shade to them; it’s all pretty much flat out, but within the onward rush there are continual textural variations. Staccato riffs alternate with passages of thrash, or chunks of additive cross-rhythm; Paul Rhodes’ grinding overdriven bass steps out on its own to contrast with phrases of full guitar assault; transitional motifs take unexpected side-turnings into chromatic atonality. The full texture is a confection of ear-flaying abrasive beauty; no slave-mind shackles of taste or stylistic obedience restrain the magnificence of The Domestics’ full throated roar. The level of distortion is set to maximise the music’s impact, without obscuring the sense of the songs; the mix is full range, but emphasises sonic penetration rather than the psychedelic wallow of bassier distortions. Chris D.C. ties the band together like a linchpin from the drum stool, but it’s clear enough that every player is totally on top of their own time: this shit is tight, and there are no passengers in this band. Every player is totally on it, and their efforts are totally unified.
James Domestic’s lyrics range from discursive acts of resistance (‘Culture Marines’) to utterances framed within the subjectivity he seeks to represent (‘N-n-n-n-nervous’), or ruthlessly lean statements of critique (‘Idiot Jamboree’). He delivers them with raw savagery, and although they are often freighted with irony in themselves, his vocals have the passionate commitment of the activist, rather than the theatrical detachment or acid nihilism of many similarly sophisticated punk lyricists. And these words are certainly keyed into a wider range of discourses than you’d expect of a band that sounds like this, irrespective of how intelligent or perceptive their author might be: ‘you are negatively constituted’ is the final and devastating accusation he levels at the bigots on whom he wastes so few words in ‘Idiot Jamboree’, and he even credits his source when he quotes Bourdieu in ‘Culture Marines’! Domestic’s authorial voice is transposed onto the speaking subject in ‘I’m Tanked’, when the character in the song complains of ‘existential ennui’; this little nugget of meta-textual lamination is indicative of the complexity and precision with which these stripped-down compositions are constructed.
To be totally honest, much of the intellectual power of this EP will only become apparent on a close reading of the lyric sheet (although lines like ‘I’m an intellectual wimp/ evolution is my pimp/ I’m a chimp’ do tend to grab the attention quite forcefully), but the precisely judged complexity of the surface noise is an effective signal that there’s more to it than meets the ear. This is not ‘street-punk’, a confused ball of inchoate resistance and drunken hedonism; this really is a piece of activism, one of the many small self-liberating interventions that make a revolution. This is a fucking weapon.
Kibou Records KUBOU002/ Runny Bum Records RBR001, 2013