[SRA / Get Better; 2018]

Styles: grindcore, pop
Others: Cloud Rat, Library, Curmudgeon

Punk music is folk music, in that it’s one of the most straightforward descriptions of current communities and hopes in popular music. Metal music is popular music, as it’s one of the most pervasive styles of music celebrated among lower-class people across all continents. Grindcore, that violent, explosive, hyperactive, and overachieving child of metal, is also popular music, its extremity now a source of comfort, tradition, community.

FRIENDS. LOVERS. FAVORITES., the new album from Philly grind collective HIRS, is pop music, not just popular music. It’s recorded and mixed like an early-2000s Relapse record, loud and bright and sharp. The vocals are intelligible, the guitars irruptive, buoyant, propulsive, chunky. It takes the emotional directness and reliability of mainstream pop and lashes it to the minute-or-less anti-structures of grind and to militant (trans)gender anarchist politics, dirty sex jokes, thoughts of suicide, and utterly genuine love for a community of friends. The album, appropriately, is littered with a massive array of guests, from Shirley Manson of Garbage to Erica Freas of RVIVR, from Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! to Martin Crudos of Los Crudos and Limp Wrist — a true collective.

“You know that we said that you can’t kill us, and we’re living up to that. We’re still alive, and we’ll never die. They’ll remember all of our names while your legacy is rotting. We’ll outlive all of you.” (“Still Can’t Kill Us”)

Directness can be frightening. This community of earnest freaks and gender deviants, the direct confrontation of misogyny and transphobia and murder — these are topics that can be embarrassing to talk about directly in art, at least for a certain subsect of people. This is tied to questions of status, of course, but it’s also tied to fear, to the desire to lock our fears in prisms of words. It’s easy for a transperson like myself to dive into cyborg poetics, to jargon, to microanalyses of affect and disposition and interstices of hurt, but HIRS swerve from all that, confronting a miserable reality head on. They shatter that prism of words and replace it with the torrent of grindcore.

Grindcore is physical, and this directness is the product of its songs — and not just its lyrics. This is emphatically body music, punk music, and metal, and it’s expertly done. They’ve moved from the frenetic-burst approach of their countless early EPs to something a bit more solid, something that places more emphasis on silence, that hints briefly at a traditional “riff” before diving in another direction. But these moments of solidity are that pop tradition, that emphasis on movement and emotional response bound together in a joyful, sweaty room. It’s no wonder they blast Britney Spears in between songs live.

It’s also very funny. One day, just before entering a HIRS show, someone asked me what kind of music they played, and I said they were a grindcore band. A friend of his butted in, “Oh, but they’re a joke grindcore band, not a real one.” This is a strange thing to say about a genre whose progenitor was named Anal Cunt and exclusively wrote “joke” songs, but perhaps it’s telling. When humor in grindcore ceases to be raw oppression and hate and turns to love and community, it’s embarrassing. It’s not “real” grindcore. But this, of course, is just misogynistically treating a gleefully affirmative transgender collective as a joke.

“They say that when we’re sick, we’re weak. That’s furthest from the truth. We’re surviving. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to be sick. They say that when we’re sick, we’re weak. They know nothing. Please — if you have the ability — take it day by day, take care of yourself, and ask us if you need anything.” (“It’s OK to Be Sick”)

To summon up this community, to hear these voices, to admit to yourself that you are at risk, that you rely upon a community, suddenly makes the multitudes and complexities of transgender existence and misogynist/capitalist horror so simple, refreshingly and unnervingly so. One can start crying over a grindcore album, one can give in, for a moment, on one’s own terms as much as possible, to the banality of fear. There’s something here we need — not all of us, but some of us — something in this collectives’ machinic guitars and actual machine drums that provides a centering moment, a reminder of materiality as our bodies can quickly begin to slip away from us under the endless deluge of images and selves and bodies that daily life exposes us to. It gives me a simple path of resistance for a fleeting moment. Fuck these assholes. I love my friends.

Somehow, this sound of raw fury filtering joy and fear makes the trans body, my trans body, present and material, lets it slip from its endless processing by my own head and by the society that it’s submerged in. It returns my body to me. Pop music has a way of doing this, rendering the collective personal and vice versa. Grindcore does this too, but it does it differently. THE HIRS COLLECTIVE have their own form of grindcore, and they do it differently too. Here’s to a shared future and to a shared past. The community summoned up by FRIENDS. LOVERS. FAVORITES. is very real, very sweet, and hopefully very dangerous.

“It won’t be very long until you realize that you’re not as strong as you used to be. We are gaining power in strength and in numbers. You’re outnumbered.” (“Outnumbered”)

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