Global and mobile, patient and subtle, New War continues to examine all fronts. The Melbourne quartet released their first single, “Ghostwalking,” on Brace Paine’s Fast Weapons label in 2011, throwing an eight-minute studio cut on the A-side and giving the flip over to remixes by The Gossip and Melbourne-to-London transplants HTRK. Fast Weapons is mostly reserved for new blood and forgotten masterpieces of gloom sound from the Pacific Northwest underground, and this is part of New War’s pedigree. There’s vocalist Chris Pugmire of early 2000s Riot Grrrl revivalists Shoplifting still pouring his distinct brew of Evergreen radicalism and (Twin Peaks-era) Lynchian mysticism:
ah what happened to Bees? estranged colonies, pollinating stilled
swollen Abdomens of abandoned queens, crumbling wings & wax
when there’s no more Hives we’ll be ghostwalking
word is born
It took four years for Pugmire and Shoplifting bassist Melissa Lock to form the nucleus of New War, in the process moving their roots from brooding Seattle to sunny Melbourne’s fertile topsoil and recruiting self-taught savants Steve Masterson (drums, Bird Blobs) and Jesse Shepherd (keyboard, Sir) to round out the troop. It took another full year after “Ghostwalking” to consecrate 2012’s full-length debut, New War. This was a period of gestation. “Real bands actually are alchemy,” Pugmire remembers Huggy Bear’s Jo Johnson telling him. New War is a body, a long-player with a pulse.
have you ever laughed without a body?
it feels so strange… cold
– “Felt Like A Memory”
New War is four elements seamlessly bonded together. It’s aptly named: the voice can be a menacing, if abstract, call to arms. The tight, locked groove of drum and bass often borders on marshall, as on the mid-album rally “Slim Dandy,” a personal and poetic reflection on institutionalized murder vis-a-vis the industrial war apparatus.
New War is human. It breathes; it seethes. Pugmire is, of course, the voice. He lyrically traces lines of international flux — capital, sexual energy, abuse, exploitation. He’s also the limbic system. Live, he flails with each word, making the music move according to basic drives. New War’s rhythm section — the heart, the blooded center — couldn’t be replaced by a drum machine. Carefully recorded textural details, like the sounds of a stick hitting a hi-hat stand, are as integral to the whole as the quantifiable boom-chicks driving the pace. It’s more humanity, blood between the beats.
The one point at which the rhythm is actually produced by a machine — in the Mancunian opening strains of penultimate track “Wishlist” — feels like an aberration, an artificial limb. But this brief digression underscores what makes New War’s ticker beat. By the time Shepherd’s overarching synth — the brain, the eye — melts away as if it were burning in This Heat’s tape machine, the body is reconstituted. Appropriately, this leads into the album’s anthropic/dystopic closer, the plodding eight-plus-minute “Josef’s Hands”:
& his body starts to stink
& his tongue begins to swell
& his words come fumbling Out
– “Josef’s Hands”
More than a year and a half after its debut, New War is now getting a wider release via the label arm of protean, multi-site music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties. As bodies grow, War spreads.