Southern Lord – 20th January 2017
It’s part and parcel of the music critic’s remit to know anything and everything about all music, and to have an opinion on it all, too. More importantly, the music critic’s job description entails knowing more about music than you, irrespective of anything. Go on, talk to me about music. I’ll gush about some of the things you life if they’re cool, and I’ll shit over everything else, demolishing your favourite bands on which because I’m the fucking expert. Why? What drives this propensity for inordinately cunty behaviour? Think about it. In the age of the internet, everyone’s a fucking expert. So how else do we justify our position if not by proving we’re more expert, more opinionated and more eloquent in our critiques?
So, it’s confession time: much as I dig a fair bit of proper, old-school US hardcore, I do not profess to be an expert. Having not heard of Uniform Choice, I asked a friend of mine who’s a proper fan of US hardcore for his opinion on Uniform Choice. He hadn’t heard of them either, which means he’s not as much of a fan or expert as I took him for, or Uniform Choice are really bloody obscure. Either is equally likely, and Southern Lord’s commitment to excavating lesser-known bands of the heyday of hardcore is laudable.
But I did have misgivings about Uniform Choice: the press release promises ‘furious hardcore energy and a signature vocal delivery combine with empowering lyrical output to formulate one of the most renowned and longstanding albums of the ‘80s hardcore scene.’ ‘Fourteen straightedge anthems’ I can handle, but something doesn’t sit to comfortably: namely, the fact Uniform Choice are pitched as ‘California’s godfathers of positive hardcore’.
‘It’s going to be shit,’ I told my friend.
‘You need to be more positive,’ he replied.
‘Ok, I’m positive it’s going to be shit,’ I told him.
I’m funny like that. It’s the way I tell ‘em.
But really, isn’t positive hardcore a dismal oxymoron which sits in the same field as Christian metal?
Sonically, Screaming For Change, their first full-length album, originally released in 1986, is incendiary, a blistering, fiery powerhouse of punk rock noise, an album which encapsulates the ferocity, the intensity, and the raw, brutal determination of the early hardcore movement to make a difference. The songs are – as you’d expect – hard, fast and short. The drums are hell-for-leather and the guitars a furious chug. The production is surprisingly crisp, with clear separation between the instruments. Screaming for Change finds Uniform Choice exploit many popular punk tropes, with terrace-chant ‘choruses’ – the title shouted out a few times, as on ‘Use Your Head’ and shouted vocals bellowing out the expletive-filled lyrics so fast half the words are impossible to catch.
It’s all about the force of expression, and more about the sentiment than the melody: ‘it’s all the same / and I’m tired of taking the fucking blame!’
The ‘positive’ aspect doesn’t come across as preaching, and despite titles like ‘Straight and Alert’ and ‘My Own Mind,’ ‘Don’t Quit’, Uniform Choice are pissed off and looking to smash the system. But instead of blind nihilistic rage, theirs is a message that celebrates the idea that there are alternatives, that you don’t have to follow the crowd, that shit as everything is, you don’t have to perpetuate the same shit yourself. And I’m down with that.