Self Defense Family – Try Me


Label: Deathwish Inc

Album stream via Alternative Press: Link

A few years ago, there existed a band called End Of A Year, like the Embrace song. After releasing the excellent You Are Beneath Me album in 2010, they decided to change their name, going through several different forms until they came to where they are now, as Self Defense Family. Not only did their name change, but so did the very nature of the band. No longer just a few guys with guitars, they now include touring and session musicians, recording and touring depending on who is available, even to the extent of multiple line-ups being active at once. It’s a concept that pretty much takes the idea of “a band” and disregards any rules or conventions, in the name of music.

It’s worth opening the review with this information because it helps the listener make sense of new album, Try Me. It’s possibly the most difficult album that Deathwish Inc have released to date; but that’s not to say it’s bad at all. Rather, whereas Self Defense Family play with the concept of “a band” to suit their needs, they play with the concept of punk rock in a similar manner. It’s punk in the way Sonic Youth were (not that it really sounds like Sonic Youth apart from one brief moment, but either you know what I mean, or this is going right over your head). Or, if you prefer, you can read how the band describe their music. (Built To Spill covering Killing Joke? I can get on board with that). There’s a change here between this album and the previous one that’s comparable to the shift Blacklisted made between Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God and No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me. You can still recognise it as the same band, but that they’ve changed soon becomes obvious.

The beginning of the album might make you wonder what I mean by that, but it shouldn’t be long until it becomes clear that the band have moved on from their End Of A Year Days. Opener Tithe Pig isn’t too far removed from what the band has done before, though it is a bit slower and more melancholy than perhaps expected. Yet tracks such as Nail House Music, Aletta, and the more up-tempo Weird Fingering hint at a more art-rock direction, with more repetition throughout the songs than might normally be expected; and Dingo Fence is 10 minutes of repetition that initially seems far too long, but is quite a grower. Meanwhile, Turn The Fan On and Apport Birds are lyrically utterly bleak, with music to match, and are amongst the most effective – and best – songs the band have recorded. More than the music though, it’s that dripping tap sound at the beginning and end of Turn The Fan On that sums up the atmosphere it creates. Listen to it and I’m sure you’ll understand.

It’s with fourth track, Mistress Appears At Funeral, that the most obvious sign on this album of Self Defense Family’s new band format rears it head, with the lead vocal being taken by Caroline Corrigan, and there’s some “oohing” in the background that reminds me of old pop music. It’s absolutely glorious, with really gritty lyrics that don’t make for a comfortable listen.

Even so, that doesn’t prepare the listener for Angelique One, situated in the middle of the album, or closer Angelique Two (note: this is based on the download version. On the vinyl version, Angelique One and Angelique Two will be on their own record, separate from the other songs). A spoken-word interview with adult film actress Angelique Gauthier totalling 38 minutes over the two tracks, it’s a compelling listen, as she talks about her childhood, adolescence, and early adult life. I won’t go in to detail, but they are a harrowing listen, and I think it’s a smart move to have them positioned where they are. They compliment the songs surrounding them, and add hugely to the feel of the album even if they are not easy or comfortable listens.

It’s not an easy listen at all, and to describe it as enjoyable also seems wrong; yet there’s something compelling and cathartic about these songs. It’s punk rock for adults, with complex problems and feelings and failings. It might take a few listens to get your head around, but if you do, and if you’re in the right frame of mind for it, then you’ll discover one of the best, most challenging albums of the year.

Rating: 9/10

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