HalfMeltedBrain Records – 9th June 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

They may have only formed in 2020 during lockdown, but Brighton’s heavy post-punk noisemakers Mules (not to be confused with 90s US punk blues band, Mule) have already racked up three digital single releases before this six-track cassette EP. And while three of the tracks here are the preceding singles (with a studio recording of the live debut, ‘I Think We Need to Talk’, Illusions of Joy stands as a taut, cohesive document.

Their bio pitches their sound as being ‘equal parts dissonant and melodic, with a tight rhythm section providing insistent motorik grooves and angular rhythms’, adding that ‘In the tradition of Mark E Smith, the vocals are generally spoken, with very little concession to melody. Occasionally they escalate into a desperate and emotional yelp. With roots in the punk scene, Mules take influence from the first wave of post-punk, indie-rock, 90s noise-rock, and various more contemporary bands such as Parquet Courts, Metz, and Gilla Band.’

At the risk of repeating myself, shit times do at least make for decent music, and it’s no coincidence that the social and political landscape in which we find ourselves, which bears remarkable parallels to Thatcher’s Britain, is spawning a wave of disaffected musical voices. It’s not simply that the contemporary crop are aping the sound and feel of the first generation of punk and new wave acts because it feels fitting: the music itself is a means of articulating those knotty emotions that are a conglomeration of anger and frustration and the sense of powerlessness in the face of a need for change. Angularity, discord, dissonance, noise; these are the sonic vehicles which carry the sentiments sonically.

And so it is that while the primary grist to Mules’ mill is ‘everyday life in Tory austerity Britain’, they also pull on ‘broader themes, which draw on Tommy’s MA thesis, such as cultural hegemony, global political economy, and systems of control.’

There’s something particularly pleasing about hearing the words ‘cultural hegemony’ in the first verse of the first song on a record. Because as much as we live in shit times on so many levels, a real bugbear – and a genuine issue – is the dumbing down of culture; we have a government who openly attack intellectualism and deride ‘experts’, who refuse to engage in debate and view critical thinking as unhealthy – and in their tenuous position of power which serves only to protect their own interests – and, specifically, wealth – it is. And so it is that ‘Ergonomic Living’ takes its lead from Marxist social critique, and while the verses are defined by an insistent beat and wandering guitar, it all explodes into a roaring chorus. I’m reminded rather of Bilge Pump, and this is very much a good thing.

‘The Things We Learn in Books’ spews lists of theory against some driving guitars, and the urgency of the delivery is gripping and exhilarating. ‘Lonely Bored and High’ is the most Fall-like of the songs, but there’s a dubby element to it as well as spacious atmosphere, rendering it as much Bauhaus as The Specials, and again, it rips into a raging chorus. Fuck, these guys have such a knack for dynamics and tempo changes, it’s hard to respond in any way other than pumping your fists, because YEAHHHHH!!! FUCK, YEAHHHH!

‘I Think We Need to Talk’ is mathy, messy, disorientating, hypnotic, and ‘Clapping for Carers’ largely speaks for itself. Claps don’t pay bills, motherfuckers, and it shouldn’t be volunteers distributing limp packaged sandwiches and bags if crisps to the people sitting for ten hours or more in A&E units up and down the country (this one’s particularly sore for me, but we’ll save that for another time and just leave it that hearing a song like this really revs me).

Feeling angry and frustrated but disenfranchised and disempowered? Mules speak to, and for, you.

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Comments
  1. Matt says:

    Get a load of this awesome new 6 track release from Brighton’s own Post-punk outfit Mules! Snazzy tapes available via their bandcamp page!! FFO Pixies/Gang Of Four/Wipers/Les Savy Fav
    https://mulesband.bandcamp.com/album/illusions-of-joy

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