In the late '70s, the punk rock current would splinter off into three main tributaries - Goth, new wave, and post-punk. Each took punk's primal fury in a different direction; Goth would go on to mope about it, smoking clove cigarettes in dark mascara and eye shadow. Post-punk would get pissed, dragging in sounds from all over the world, as well as taking punk's sarcasm, destruction and disaffection to a new level. New Wave said, "Forget it, and let’s dance!"
These three tributaries would dance and twine around one another, occasionally meeting up in odd intersections and juxtapositions, like dream pop, shoegaze, post-rock. Each combination would have its own flavor and mood. The problem from considering each of punk's turgid fruits separately is the impression that people are incapable of feeling more than one emotion at a time. As if one couldn't be angry and depressed at the same time.
This way of thinking causes all manner of bickering and in-fighting among subcultures that should be kindred spirits and allies. Taken to its logical conclusion, punk is stripped of whatever sensitivity and intelligence it may have once had, as can be seen in the offshoot of Hardcore in the '80s. Whatever progressive politics punk had championed were quickly discarded, making punk the territory of Angry Young Men - rock 'n roll resurrected, which couldn't be further from what punk set out to do initially.
Exit Wounds, the short and immensely sweet EP from Oakland's The Stereo Eclipse mines these complex and sometimes contradictory emotions. It's rage, sorrow, regret and questioning is much closer to the nuances of actual life. If rock and punk were pure primary colors, Exit Wounds would be maroon, olive and sepia. If punk rock were the sun at high noon on a clear day, Exit Wounds would be twilight, or an overcast windblown afternoon, shadows and brightness quickly alternating.
The Storm Eclipse comes out raging, with the throbbing bass line and razor sharp break beats of "Storm Warning" quickly giving way to Noll Griffin's romantic vocals and Nathan Hyatt's clean chorus-y guitars. Post-punk has rarely sounded this charged, this funky. "Storm Warning" abandons Goth's ennui to get out of whatever you're in.
"Destination: Horizon" glimmers with swarming post-rock guitars, like bruised clouds on the titular horizon. Vocals are plaintive, wandering and wondering after ghosts while "Love Will Tear Us Apart" guitars build and climax. It all coalesces into one brooding, levitating whole, as if the storm had broken and it's clear sailing ahead. This is the sound of driving forward and never looking back.
I've always felt that the overly simplified readings of Goth, post-rock, and post-punk were a major missed opportunity. Overall, all three are different spins on psychedelic guitar rock, not that out of line with Pink Floyd, not to mention latter day experimentalists like Radiohead or The Smashing Pumpkins. The rockist revolutionary instinct inherent in distorted guitars is bent and blurred, like the burned red sun reflected in the waves of Monet's Impression, Sunset, to become a poetry of dreams; anger, fear and sadness spiraling and melding in kaleidoscopic patterns.
If anyone has ever been blessed/cursed enough to have been awake in the middle of the night, haunted by memories and regrets, building in intensity until you're so sick of your own damn head that you're ready to do something about it and actually change, they will admit that these layered emotions are much closer to the truth. The Stereo Eclipse begins with the adolescent anger of guitar, bass and drums and carries it further. It is the sound of preserving your dreams, even as they become more complicated. It's hard to be idealistic, as an adult.
The Stereo Eclipse proves that your heart doesn't have to die when you grow older; that we can rock the hell out, while being smart and sensitive at the same time. For anyone who thinks that punk is dumb, think again. They haven't totally nullified the revolution. We are mighty when we come together, when we listen and learn.
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