Head Wound City
A New Wave Of Violence
by Chad Jewett
The aesthetic of Head Wound City’s A New Wave of Violence – scraping, industrial post-punk pierced with withering shrieks, all produced with Ross Robinson’s trademark booming precision – is such a good idea that one can’t help but wonder how nobody’s thought of it till now. The album marks only the second release from the hardcore quintet in a decade, arriving a full ten years after the makeshift thrash of the band’s self-titled 2005 EP. As with that album, the band – which features members of The Locust, The Blood Brothers, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs – wrote and recorded the album in an artificially condensed window of time, but with an increased attention on exploring sounds, dynamics, and moods that were quickly whittled away in the drum-tight strictures of the first EP and its 7-minute squall. A New Wave is a record shaped at once by ascetic punk discipline and the desire to sound both ferocious and substantive – a goal borne out by the choice of Robinson as a producer, a man who did similar work on At The Drive-In’s seminal Relationship of Command, finding a way to capture that band’s volatility in hi-definition. Head Wound City seemingly had the good judgment to recognize what aspects of the greatness of Head Wound City were reproducible, and which would sound dully second-hand.
Thus we get a 25-minute punk record that bounces between the roiling quiet/LOUD stomp of “Head Wound City, USA” (a track whose jabbing single-note riffs are Blood Brother’s guitarist Cody Votolato’s defining aesthetic) and the washed-out noise fog of “Avalance In Heaven”, wherein Jordan Blilie’s screams, as perfectly feral as ever, are packed in shoegaze cotton. Indeed, besides the expanded song lengths and increased attention to structure (these songs last longer and go more places), the most notable change here is the rebalancing of Head Wound City’s sound, less given to the animal hiss of their eponymous debut, whose treble-soaked sound was somehow ideal for its mid-00s internet mystique. Here the tones are rounder and more subterranean, a change that takes getting used to but which benefits the broad, thrumming strums of “Old Age Takes Too Long” (those blanked-out guitar slashes, a key tool of guitarist and Yeah Yeah Yeahs co-founder Nick Zinner, have become truly painterly). If the album’s less abrasive tone also makes for something less immediate, it may well also make for something more sustainable.
And indeed, for a release nearly four times longer than the last thing Head Wound City produced, the band does an admirable job figuring out how to make their sound – which remains almost scientifically balanced between the nightmare garage of Blood Brothers, the artsy stylishness of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the gonzo grind of The Locust – work from multiple angles. The best-case scenario thus becomes songs like “Born To Burn”, which begins with a stomping, chopped-up progression and finds its way to both wilder (“Burn! Burn! Burn!”) and more measured moments. The same goes for “Closed Casket”, which opens in a manic first-generation hardcore burst before making its way to some of the more nimble, pliant sounds that marked Blood Brother’s perfect 2004 acme Crimes. In and amongst all of this are more austere moments, pockets designed for different sounds, spots where Jordan Blilie vamps in a post-punk glower rather than paints the track in bile. Only “Love Is Best”, which, at four minutes, is about one-sixth of the album, stretches itself too far out, a fact ironically echoed in the woozy, seasick effects that bathe the song’s middle third. Yet, even then, “Love Is Best” reshapes into a slowly gathering storm built around an especially biting Blilie, repeatedly shouting, “One last time: love is best.” It’s a fitting final demonstration of what Head Wound City have, in their gradual, decade-spanning way, become so adept at: melting hardcore down to see what forms it might take. A New Wave of Violence underlines just how elastic their imagination really is.