At this stage in the game it is safe to say J Church is the most prolific band to spawn from the late `80s East Bay / Lookout! Records scene *cough* MTX release something new *cough*, but being prolific only gets you so far. Lance Hahn and Co. don’t just rest on their laurels putting out a bunch of identical records one after the other though, as with The Horror of Life they prove that on their seventh full-length release they are still able to challenge contemporary notions about what it is to make a punk a record.
The album opens up with the squealing guitar line of “Vampire Girl Prefers Me Alive,” and I must say it reminds me a lot of how the Draft opened up their recent full-length with “New Eyes Open.” From what I gather it is a song about an intimate female relation to one of the band members. I know what you're thinking (because I’m Patrick Stuart), “Wow, a pop-punk band writes a song about a girl” and yes, the album does open and close on mid-tempo rockers about relationships but there is more to it. Now a majority of bands under the umbrella tree that is punk tend to paint females in rather static views of “You broke my heart, die you Benedict Arnold!” or “When you rub it there that feels good, bebe,” but for J Church this is not the case. The roles of females in these songs are very much fluid and complex. Take for example the adventures of the quirky bloodthirsty protagonist Sarah over the groovy bassline (Ben Snakepit anyone?) in “Vampire Girl Prefers Me Alive” or the characters coming to grips with a loveless relationship in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
Being a fiercely independent band they still wear their politics on their sleeve just as proudly as they do their hearts. “If I Have to Dance Then I Don’t Want Your Revolution” is a perfect example of this. If one wanted to write a song about sellouts all you’d have to do is find the latest article on Against Me! and paste together strings of message board dialogue. Instead, J Church write a personal and passionate song about the commodification and co-opting of the ideals they cherish by corrupt individuals, with lines like, "What I thought was sad confusion was just counter-revolution. Buy the shirt. Buy the fad. Buy the full-page glossy ad. Selling out, buying in. Dance, you fool. Stupid grin. The revolutionary ideals, they’re happy to steal and turn into gimmicks for post-modern cynics." Dance, dance indeed.
Equally impressive to what the band has to say is how they go about saying it. The band provides a veritable cornucopia of styles such as: down-home acoustics (“The World's Tiniest Violin”); classic hardcore punk (“New Ho Chi Minh City”); noisy post-hardcore (“Unrequited”); and riff-centric pop (“Cosmonaut”). For a band that releases so many splits and singles there is an uncanny cohesiveness to all that is going on in the record. This is in part, I believe, to Lance Hahn being an astute observer of history, pop culture and music he just knows will work. Take for instance “Eric Dolphy,” about the jazz musician of the same name who died in Germany of complications with diabetes because doctors assumed that since he was a jazz musician he was overdosing on drugs; how many punk bands would write songs about that? Shades of the nerdy attention to detail show up in other aspects of the album as well, such as the nod to the Pixies in the back-up wails of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."
The album’s catchiness gives it an immediacy, its little idiosyncrasies encouraging closer examination and its variety giving it longevity. Few bands ever labeled pop-punk are worthy of the moniker but J Church has been able to do so much within the sub-genre while maintaining the likeability of pop and the respectability of punk to truly require being labeled as such. Front-person (person-holes?), Lance Hahn has always proved to be a man with a lot of ideas but with The Horror of Life, just maybe he has finally been able to fully articulate them.
Stream The horror of Life at J Church's Punknews Profile Page