Sharptooth – Clever Girl (Pure Noise, 2017)

You definitely want this reptile on your side at a riot, girl. The blisteringly angry Sharptooth have tried to send the bitterness of their first album Clever Girl down with a cover and title inspired by the widely-loved popcorn bollocks of Jurassic Park (new sequel, reboot, whatever the shit, coming June 2018). It’s as if they knew that being a pro-feminist hardcore band with awareness of intersectionality can bring accusations of being humourless or one-dimensional (ironically). In a perfect example of what prompted their fellow Baltimore hammer-bearers War On Women to pen a song called Youtube Comments, the Pure Noise Records upload for this album is awash in, well, pure noise from stupid fuckers. It’s starting to seem that in lock with wider society, the punk sphere is becoming an even more degraded vehicle for enlightened viewpoints than the already questionable standard it was at when I was younger. I expect that any day now Heideroosjes will get back together to perform that crap song off Punk-O-Rama 5 (the European version) at nationalist marches in Warsaw, only this time they’d reword it as SJWPOS. Putting that horror aside, what exactly do Sharptooth — in all their metropolitan glory — bring to what Jeff Goldblum describes as “the plate of dino-entertainment”?

Their bandcamp self-describes this lot as melodic hardcore. I suppose that’s true here, but not in any academically useful sense of the term (some of their earlier stuff I can find fits the label, though). When listening to Clever Girl the band that most comes to my mind is Converge, which gives you an idea of how heavy it gets, if not quite so unwieldy. The beats per minute on this are often high, the vocals break and shudder in bloodlust, and there’s a manic and stabbing nature to much of the music. Whenever it slows down, you get the impression it’s just a predator gearing up to attack you again. Rather than a raptor I found myself picturing a deranged pterodactyl picking apart its victim, although it’s possible I’m getting the flying imagery due to thinking about how brilliant Eagles Become Vultures is. If The Dusk In Us has got you back in the mood for some metalcore, this could complement it. If you are furious about fucking everything, this could help. There are no snowflakes here.

It’s not all like that though. Even with “proper,” normal track lengths, the lyrics are generally straightforward, like Converge without all the artsy-fartsy poetry. Opening piece Rude Awakening is the typical ode to finding some sort of comfortable place within the extreme music scene. During the first minute, singer Lauren Kashan delivers lines in an almost-rapping style that remind me of St. Pete-dwelling emcee Figment. It’s a strangely compelling intro before Clever Girl gets into the velociraptor-maimed guts of how it will sound. You’d be forgiven for thinking Fuck You Donald Trump is going to be as subtle as that nice little number by YG and co., but the lyrics admirably don’t even mention him (I’d sure like not to). Kashan even states in an interview that the title of the song is a joke rather than an attempt to be controversial, being as it’s not a particularly fringe view to oppose the prick. Can I Get A Hell No doesn’t appear to be a Miley Cyrus reference thankfully, but it does borrow some famous lines from Nancy Sinatra. Jesus Loves You is a good mid-album instrumental, with fittingly sludgey, apocalyptic vibes, but I could have done with more of a thorough spotlight on the instruments. Flesh it out, so all the dinos get something to eat. No, I am not calling for more fleshlights in a work of feminist art.

There can be allegations of box-ticking about tracklists like this. Given that albums are generally thought collections cut into about a dozen individual slices, you could argue that box-ticking is part of the essence of them. These just happen to be the issue slices that matter to this band. Contrary to the average punk or hardcore group, they involve a fair bit of Raging Against the Man-chine (the name of a recently returned blog that I used to read quite a lot). It’s tempting to get further into this current state of affairs: where social issues seem once again to have risen to the forefront of discussion; where anyone remotely of the left needs to be deeply questioning tactics and narratives that may have contributed to such a backlash against progress.

But fuck it. I am tired of not being able to simply enjoy anything because of this online spiritual successor to the “political correctness gone mad!” tabloids. Not everything is so complex. On this record, marginalised people demand not to be raped and murdered, and they are as confounded as I am as to why that is controversial. You can hear it. The specificity of certain tracks means that the lyrics smack of someone trying to make a simple claim and being frustrated that they need to try infinite new phrasings to get the point across. And that, in itself, is not a bad way of getting the point across. That being said, I think an argument could be made that, moving forward, it would be a bit disappointing if Sharptooth didn’t develop the lyrical ideas somehow. It’s not that what’s here is poor, but on more than one occasion the significant words could have easily fit inside a traditional 90 second hardcore song. You’ve raged real good, now make the rage a tad deeper, or something.

Other light-hearted nods are present, bobbing on the surface without undermining the angry messages. Sharptooth is a Land Before Time reference (if you’re starting to wonder, yes, Kashan is a herpetoculturist — a bloomin’ alligator trainer). The cuts Left 4 Dead (presumably named after the zombie game series), Rise and Blood Upon Your Hands are about sexual assault, movement building and mental health respectively. Coincidence perhaps, but listed together they look like Send More Paramedics levels of zombie inclusion (not a bad musical comparison at times, actually). It’s no wonder this thing dropped right before Halloween. The severed half-limb on the cover even brings to mind the artwork of Left 4 Dead. Their previous Chompers EP includes the track Charmander Vs Squirtle; could we be dealing with the fabled girl gamer here? Clever indeed, with claws ripping up analogue sticks.

Pushing Forward is a fine anthemic closer that goes back and forth in a few different directions, but still works as a whole. It’s a pretty decent microcosm for the Clever Girl sound, with red-throat vocals, welcome singing, gravelly spoken word and gang-back ups. Fittingly given its title, it’s got some of those slightly more intricate lyrics that I was hoping for earlier. Like the final track on Propagandhi’s recent album, Victory Lap, it’s about breaking free from the current paradigm, and even similarly uses the imagery of two people holding hands as they do so. With this and Rude Awakening surrounding the rest of the record, Sharptooth appear to be explaining the purpose of their approach on this album. It’s not meant to politely get the point across with a persuasive argument. It’s a burst of pent-up apoplexy. The point of Fuck the Border is not to gently appeal to the better nature of ICE agents. These songs are places of release, and we need to make sure these places remain available options for anyone that might be feeling the crush of our times. Allowing the culture wars to scare people away would not be particularly clever.

You can stream the whole album from the Pure Noise Bandcamp on the player below. You can also buy it on CD or raptor-vinyl here.

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