Listening to a hardcore band’s recorded output is a little like reading a novelization of a movie. The book will give you the whole story, all the dialogue, maybe even a scene or two that didn’t make it into the final cut, but only at the expense of… well, everything that makes a film a film. Similarly, a hardcore album can give you a bunch of songs, but that’s not really the point, is it? Hardcore, in its purest and most undiluted form, is visceral, cathartic; it’s a primal scream codified in the signs and signifiers of an underground DIY culture with more than three decades of history. And unless you’re experiencing it live, it’s a dead thing.
For a variety of reasons, Trash Talk has become one of hardcore’s ambassadors to the indie kids of today (certainly the company they keep can’t be hurting them in this respect: a single with Keith Morris, an album with Steve Albini, a record deal with provocateurs Odd Future). And for the most part, I think they’ve earned it. Unlike other artists vying for the title, at least this band isn’t trying to pass off turgid metafictional rock opera as punk. Besides, just look at this shit. Skip ahead to about 4:40 where singer Lee Spielman starts a circle pit in the middle of the audience. It’s just this rush of bodies moving in circuit like a ring of cosmic debris orbiting some unstable planet. Who wouldn’t want to be in the middle of that?
Unfortunately, the ideological purity that makes Trash Talk such exemplars of the hardcore spirit also makes 119, the group’s fourth full-length, kind of a monotonous record. The songs are mostly fast, but often find time for a heavy sludge breakdown, like on “Eat the Cycle” and “Uncivil Disobedience.” Spielman’s rasp is as caustic as ever and his rhetoric every bit as spiteful as on previous outings. Long-time fans won’t find any curveballs here, aside, perhaps, from the Melvins-y “Blossom and Burn,” which features some guest vocals from Odd Future’s Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats. Good news if you’re a true believer in hardcore’s ability to save your soul, but I’m not finding anything here that will come as a revelation to punk fans who see hardcore as more of a starting point than an end in itself, particularly when we have artists like The Men, Future of the Left, and White Lung creating hardcore-influenced albums with more hooks, brains, and fresh ideas.
Evaluating 119 kind of puts me in a weird place. I’m glad that albums like this exist. I’m glad that a band as uncompromising as Trash Talk can have the cachet they do in a musical milieu where loud guitar bands are increasingly being viewed as anachronistic by many in the independent music journalism community. And I would trample over my grandmother to see them live if they ever played out near me (don’t feel too bad for her; my grandmother wasn’t a very nice person). Still, I don’t see much point in recommending an album that is, at best, a dilution of the real experience it’s trying to capture.