The Falcon – Gather up the Chaps (Red Scare Industries, 2016)

First of all, I’ve got to apologise. I started writing this review months ago, and somehow, it fell by the wayside. Not as if I found anything better to do. Basically, I fell victim to my inherent ability to procrastinate. Anyway, here we are. And it’s a long-ass blow-by-blow accounting, interspersed with lyrical epithets and my probable inaccurate interpretations of the same. Read it, or don’t. Not as if anybody cares about my opinion anymore anyway. Oh, to be relevant again…

Chaps

This is a release I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. Literally, I’d been waiting for these guys to drop another record since Unicornography dropped in 2006. So, with this in mind, I’ll be talking about an album that may have been 10 years in the making. Well, realistically speaking, probably not. However, I like to indulge my bad self with these types of whimsy every now and then. For which I make no apologies. At the very least, there have been snippets and tracks popping up every so often for the last year or two, to offer a palate tickler, or a taster – if you will – of this platter right here. Brace yourselves for the inevitable meandering and digressing to come. I’d also take the opportunity to disabuse you readers of any notion that I only found enthusiasm for the bands referenced throughout this piece. I might be boring, but, motherfuckers, I ain’t quite that one-dimensional.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. For the benefit of those of you that aren’t familiar with The Falcon (or their body of work), they are what the media likes to describe as a “super group” based out of Chicago that have been sporadically releasing records since 2004’s debut EP ‘God Don’t Make No Trash -or- Up Your Ass With Broken Glass’ (to give the full title), which was my initial encounter with them. They have several consistent members, namely Brendan Kelly and Neil Hennessy of The Lawrence Arms and Dan Andrianno of Alkaline Trio. The line-up has been variously filled out by a variety of dudes, from Todd Mohney of Rise Against to British solo punk bard Sam Russo, and most recently, Dave Hause of The Loved Ones. Suffice to say that my interest in these guys has been cemented for over a decade, as there has been a lot of involvement here with several key figures from my music listening history (well, since the latter part of the 1990s). Obviously then, I’d been excited about this for some time, and I’d been devouring the tasters like a greedy little bastard.

I’m not shy of heaping praise on any and all musical output that Brendan Kelly is/has been involved in, and have voraciously gorged myself on it. Well, with the exception of The Greatest Story Ever Told by The Lawrence Arms, which (back in the day), I could never get along with for some reason. Suffice to say that anybody I talked to about it disagreed with me over this, as they lauded it (incorrectly, in my opinion) as the best thing ever. I still hold that it’s the weakest TLA record, but I don’t find myself hating on it anymore (in fact, these days I almost kind of enjoy it).

Anyway, as the current line-up of the Falcon also features Dave Hause, I was pretty fucking excited about this. I’ve (no surprise) also been a massive advocate of The Loved Ones in my time, and put them on in Manchester in 2008 (Build & Burn era). Dave also made one of his earliest (maybe the first?) acoustic performances in my old store, Roadkill Records in the afternoon prior to this show. Which is a cherished memory, because I’m as lame as a bastard (are bastards generally lame? I dunno).

falconlive

As I’m rapidly approaching 39 years of age (two days away, tragically), it’s interesting to me to look at how the current members of the Falcon (in terms of releases with their respective parent bands) fit into the musical timeline of my 20s/30s existential angst. The year 1998 saw me move away from my hometown of Barnsley to go to university in Manchester three years after my contemporaries (I’d made the error of going out and getting a shitty local authority desk job for this period), in an attempt to outrun my self-predicted demise at the hands of my good old buddy, depression.

I’m uncertain of the rough date, but sometime in summer/autumn of 1999 I discovered Alkaline Trio’s Goddammit, a visceral, scorcher of a record, brimful of woe, piss and vinegar. This inevitably led me to their follow-up, Maybe I’ll Catch Fire in 2000. Whilst other people of my acquaintance were referring to generic hardcore bands as being “well croosh” or some shit, I was most definitely finding Maybe I’ll Catch Fire to be bitterly “emowsh” whilst still carrying on that theme of maximum piss and vinegar (albeit at a bit of a lesser tempo). The 2001 follow-up, From Here to Infirmary (Vagrant) didn’t really grab me at the time, and I still don’t think it’s as good, but I accept that it was their breakthrough record, and a lot of folks got a lot of love for it. Luckily for me, around I was to discover Rise Against’s own brand of fast, furious, melodic hardcore with The Unravelling (Fat Wreck Chords), which proved to be a key part of the soundtrack to many skateboarding sessions with Mental Jason and various other local notaries, down at locations such as Stockport Bones and “God’s” in Manchester’s Northern Quarter (which was run by a load of God botherers – hence the name I just used. The real name was Projekts, and possibly a contributing factor to Mental Jason tragically disavowing atheism and ending up brain-washed by the Jesus Army).

Skipping on to 2002, by which time I’d missed the first couple of Lawrence Arms records (A Guided Tour of Chicago and Ghost Stories), and Apathy & Exhaustion had just come out on Fat Wreck. This kind of started my initial flirtation with the Lawrence Arms, although I didn’t personally own a copy until early 2004. I did, however, start to fall in love with their clear Jawbreaker influenced sound, their bitterly world-weary overtones and my own interpretation of their cleverly self-deprecating lyrics. Now, as I mentioned earlier, The Greatest Story Ever Told (2003) fell short of my expectations, so we’ll skip over that. But it’s cool, there were plenty of other things to keep my attention, like Rise Against’s Revolutions Per Minute, and Alkaline Trio’s Good Mourning (amongst others) which I still hold was a solid return to form, foregrounding a funereal attention to / fascination with morbidity and self-loathing. There’s probably parallels to be drawn there with getting made redundant from a shitty job I’d actually been excelling at if I really wanted to embellish this tale or attempt to totally bullshit you internet passersby, but I won’t. I was actually pretty happy about it. But then ‘God Don’t Make No Trash -or- Up Your Ass With Broken Glass’ dropped in late 2004, along with self titled EP by The Loved Ones (Jade Tree) which offered some promising tasters of future rumblings from the Chicago and Philly scenes respectively.

I lost interest in Alkaline Trio around the time Crimson came out (Vagrant, 2005).
Ye olde plague yeare of our Lorde 2006 was eventually upon us, and a significant year it was to be, too. Fat Wreck Chords slapped me about the head and neck with the broken bottle double-whammy of Keep Your Heart (The Loved Ones) and Oh! Calcutta! (The Lawrence Arms). This was some extraordinarily revelatory barnstormingly next level shit as far as I was concerned. Keep Your Heart was an instant classic, heartfelt, heartbroken, jaded and oh-so relatable. Oh! Calcutta! saw The Lawrence Arms tearing out of the starting blocks in their characteristic self-belittling, sardonically witty way, only with more power (both physically and emotionally) than ever before. These records were both cutting themselves to the very bone and applying a liberal dosage of salt to their own wounds, whilst seemingly semi-consciously expressing concern about how they (the respective protagonists, if you will) were perceived by others. These were to become enduring themes.

The autumn of that year also saw The Falcon’s debut full length (Unicornography) drop on Red Scare. And what a treat for these ears of mine it proved to be. It was something of a tour de force of cynicism, grit, and a certain disappointment with the lot allocated by the fortunes / misfortunes of life. It gave a humorous yet jaundiced view of the human experience from the knowingly dishevelled perspective of dudes that were my own age. Even now, I find myself wondering how much is a factual reflection, how much is allegorical and how much rhetorical. Whatever it is or was, it juxtaposes nicely with the often upbeat, at times jaunty, at others, acidic, at yet others chirpy but acerbic punk rock sound they had produced. To be sure, this collaboration was definitely a grand meeting of minds. I loved it. And since that point I’d been left craving more – but the wait is finally over.

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To rapidly flesh out the intervening years between now and then, I felt I was chewed up and spat out by the local punk scene over 2008 – 9 and found myself struggling to take much of an interest in music. Roll on 2010, and I found myself living in London from that point on, which is weird. I’d always assumed that working class Northerners such as myself would burst into flames upon crossing the boundaries of the nation’s capital, or failing that, be hounded out of the city by angry torch bearing locals. Neither of these things happened, but I did find solace in the 2009 Lawrence Arms 7in, Buttsweat and Tears (Fat Wreck Chords). Something in the underlying theme of despair, bad etiquette, social displacement and anxiety made sense to me on a fundamental level. These were themes that were to eventually spill over into release of Metropole (Epitaph, 2014), which currently holds position vaguely at the top of my list of all time favourite records, and certainly sits at the top of my list of records released since some unspecified point in the past that I can’t really think of. I’m ramblin’ again. Send out the search party.

Back on track, Metropole gives an account of the band as washed out guys in their late 30s. Frayed around the edges, clearly past their physical peak, haunted by the spectre of past glories not quite grasped while the chance existed. And resenting every last fucking detail. A lot of this felt very familiar for some reason. That these tales of woe and light alcoholism were related with an almost palpable sense of mild embarrassment and a fuck-ton of panache just sealed the deal for me.

Roll on spring 2016, and Gather up the Chaps is finally with us, dripping with self-deprecation, sarcasm, jealousy, black humour and vitriol. The overarching theme demonstrated throughout this potted history therefore continues. I’ll drop in some of my favourite lyrics to try and illustrate as we head through the record. I dunno, I probably misinterpret this shit by viewing it through my own drear filter of maudlin doom.

Opener The Trash is like the first leg on a road-map to resigned, helpless, self-destruction:
Take out the trash
Show her the town
Pour in the poison
Try not to drown
Try not to yell
Try not to cry
This isn’t hell
This is goodbye

…and this sets the tone for the way ahead. Onward, and War of Colossus is pure banger and takes self-loathing and barely contained shame to a new level:
You hate that boy in the mirror
You hate that boy in your clothes
I’m kinda starting to hate that boy too
I don’t give a shit if he knows

…and that jaded, self-reflective statement rings true in my head. I’m past my best, I don’t fit in with the shitty scene and all its associated bullshit. I never truly did, and it amazes me that I tried so hard over the years. I clearly still crave the acceptance that I never really feel I got (Pah – who needs acceptance anyway?). The real sense of desperation drops in at the end of the song, and it’s gut-wrenching:

I wanna die
And I don’t care who knows
Sergio’s Here seems to embrace self-inflicted self-destruction and is a jaunty yet snotty little number, leading to a poetic little hoedown at the end:
Bathing in the stars,
Cool among the graves
Treat it like art, a sweet little mistake
What else has there ever been?

Fourth track The Skeleton Dance seems to give a self-conscious view of loneliness in extremis, and a need for solace all dressed up in an inebriated stupor and in finding a way to try not to care, to just try and block out all the bullshit:

Baby I lose this mind
So I don’t have to make sense.
So I don’t have to make ‘em laugh,
So I don’t have to make friends.
So I got another nosebleed,
So I threw up in the stall.
Tomorrow’s gonna suck, man, don’t they all.

The sense of inevitability and the prediction of repetition really stings. It’s a strange parallel I can draw to my own bullshit. Striving to keep my head above water in the effluvium filled toilet bowl of life as those in authority shit directly onto my face, and people I have to pretend to like or at least tolerate just stand by and laugh. Fuck you, shit-houses, fuck you.
Next up is Hasselhoff Cheeseburger, an abrasive, up-tempo number. This one seems to me to communicate a feeling of displacement, as you (the protagonist) get older and more physically and mentally time-worn, and the people encountered in day to day life seem to stay the same age, and become more attractive than you once were. Feeling jealous of everyone else and being unable to reverse the rigours of time seem to sum this up perfectly, as you feel yourself sliding further and further into the bottomless pit of your own existential misery.

Flapping lips, shiny scalps, jealous looks at ugly whelps…
…Baby, I just wanted to be lazy.
I only became a man because this ugly body made me.
Now I’m feeling faded and I’m fading,
It’s degrading.
And I hate it.

Yeah, I can relate. I’ve come to a similar type of realisation too. I’m not young anymore. I still seem to want to believe that I am, but I’m bullshitting myself, at the end of the day. It sure as hell doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it though, and I enjoy a good moan. Am I likely to accept this fact? I just don’t know. Am I likely to be able to do much about it? I doubt it. Plus, I’m not one for poncey expensive soaps and potions. So I guess I’ll just get old in an undignified manner, just like I did the day before and the day before that. Or something.
Dead Rose is a classic tale of unrequited love, an elegy to a failed relationship and the ensuing jealousy that comes after. The Fighter, The Rube, The Asshole returns to that omnipresent atmosphere of bitterness, shame self-destruction.

And I don’t believe in anyone
And you’re not as hard as you say
You aren’t dying or soaking your soul
Boy, you don’t know shit about shame

The rose tinted glasses through which idiots view the world are stripped away. Other people’s bullshit and posturing is seen right through. Nobody likes a false tortured soul. Particularly if you see other people making it a label or fashion accessory for themselves. Here’s some news for you people: Depression and anxiety isn’t arty. It’s deeply unpleasant, it stays with you for life. At best you learn to manage it, and wish you didn’t have to live with it. At worst it dominates your life and debilitates you. It changes a person.

If Dave Did It sees Dave Hause take the lead. He tells an embittered tale of love lost and dark revenge fantasies that cycle through his head. I read into this on a different level; that this is maybe about being able to separate fact from opinion in order to move on. For some, it’s relatable from a relationship perspective. For me, I’m relating it to the way people have treated me in other aspects of my life. I’m trying to leave the embittered, vengeful side of my character behind. When I say vengeful, I’d never actively seek revenge on anyone. I’m not a total maniac. I do enjoy the rare occasions when karma shits a brick on somebody that truly deserves it, though. It’s petty as hell, but what’s a brother to do?

Sailor’s Grave is like an admission of resignation to the downward spiral. It’s also a plea for some respite:
Mother can you hear me? Words freeze in frosty gasps.
I ate the dogs long ago, don’t know if I can last.
I been talking to myself, wallowing in dirt.
I ain’t much for company but this shit really hurts.

Where is deliverance? Certainly it’s not in the Glue Factory, a paean to the cyclical nature of desperation and the self-inflicted misery of self-medication. It feels quite simple and honestly self-aware. It feels raw and tender, like a painful minor injury you can’t help but keep touching.

Take me to the glue factory where the horsies go
For their very last little dog and pony show
Where we melt em into glue and hold em up to our nose
Until we can’t get home, til we’re laughing alone

Penultimate track You Dumb Dildos speaks to me in the strangest way. This feels like it goes beyond the point of resignation. As if the inner darkness has been embraced and accepted for what it is, to the point of the bleakest, blackest enjoyment. The side effects of continued over indulgence have merely become a fact of life, and the protagonist is beyond caring of the damage they are doing to themselves…

I’m a lost soul soaring under dead moons
You’re out here for something ugly too
The morning is for coughing, the afternoon’s for shakes
The whiskey starts at five when I’ve had all I can take
And I ain’t living with the hope of getting very far
This world was so beautiful – but I stopped at the bar

The album closes out with Black Teeth; a rousing fuck you to everyone and anyone. All those that judge. All those that criticise. Those shitty scenesters that build bands up to knock them flat. Those that take malicious delight when others fail. The self-same fucking idiots who turn their back on shit and then complain the loudest when it’s no longer there. Yeah, those fucks know who they are. Fuck you. From me. This song flies directly in the face of all this. It embraces moral decay and physical deterioration and shout out loud: “Here we are; this is who we are; this is what we are. If you don’t like it, fuck you. We’re not asking you to like it. This may be our saddening truth, in which we take some kind of sickening pride – why should we feel the need to apologise?”

In summary, this record is an achievement in my own most humble of opinions. It’s a record about frustration, shame, addiction and pain; it’s about admission to, and acceptance of this. It’s an exorcism of sorts, and self-aware as it may be, oh goodness, but it’s cathartic.

Tony of Nurgle verdict: 9.5/10

But don’t take my word for it. Find out for your own selves:
Stream it here on Youtube

Tony of Nurgle is a true child of the North, currently living in exile in Croydon, South East London. He used to co-run a specialist record store in Manchester (Roadkill Records), and also spent a couple of years as a promoter, and put on shows for the likes of Leatherface, the Loved Ones, Lucero, Minus The Bear, These Arms Are Snakes, Spy vs Spy, Latterman etc. He also spent several years DJing at shady rock clubs in Manchester, and started the infamous Thursday night “punk room” at Jilly’s Rockworld. Also responsible for Middle Finger Response, and collaborated with a couple of friends on a monthly night called Refuse to Lose, which will still occasionally reunite the original DJ line-up – hopefully in the not too distant future.
Apart from that, it’s all bitterness and a jaundiced view of human nature, rarely skateboarding, often reading books with maps in the front.

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