The insatiable forces of mediocrity are rapping at the door of our culture. They’d have you believe that the apex of artistically innovative hardcore is self-indulgently repeating the same two riffs for six minutes. They aim to delegitimize bands without commercial ambitions or booking agents as farm league amateurs. They want you to think that punk is a spectator sport, that your participation should be relegated to memorizing facts as if on basketball cards. This album answers mediocrity’s hollow promises and fallacious claims with wild eyes, a devilish grin and brandishing a sharpened scythe.
Failures are hardcore squared, sure to alienate almost any listener. More intense and honed an ensemble is impossible to find. In the hands of a lesser riff-smith, this LP could stretch to 25 minutes, but Will Killingsworth’s (Ampere, Orchid) reputation for obsessively trimming every last bit of fat is well-earned; Failures turns in 14 songs in as many minutes. The songs are so densely packed that a likely result upon initial listen is disorientation. This was the first record in five years that my mother non-ironically described as “racket.” However, upon second listen, song structures and hooks (although I use the word lightly) begin to reveal themselves.
Methed-out claustrophobic `80s-inspired guitar riffs layered over a frantic, shockingly precise rhythm section (courtesy of folks from Cut the Shit and Cancer Kids) that rarely drops below light speed. Matt Wilga’s snare rolls at the beginning of “Middle Age” sound like mediocrity being gunned down. Occasionally, the music lapses into barely-discernible, frenetic-paced noisiness as in the guitar solo in “Serious Goals.” Perhaps the best reference point is vocalist Mark McCoy’s previous ensemble, Das Oath, since the Dutch guitarist from that band co-wrote half this LP. The frantic pace and technicality is increased tenfold, however. When the pace occasionally falls below to mid-tempo, as for “Parents” and “Friends,” the result is hardly less pummeling and helps build an iron-wrought tenseness in awaiting the inevitable return to insanity.
Perhaps the shining beacon of Failures is McCoy’s lyrical sensibilities. The approach is often more direct and literal than one would come to expect from Das Oath and VMW, but the abundantly evident wit and sarcasm contained therein can leave the listener grasping for an actual meaning. A lot of the lyrics deal with the pressures of aging, especially in a culture that values youth so highly. The album is bookended by songs that bemoan the ease of slipping into an unsatisfying relationship; standout track “Fill In” finds McCoy sarcastically hoping that "we can get serious and start going to bars together, then I can pretend I like drinking." Although the topics are everyday things, the humor and meaning in the lyrics are more subtextual than anything, since it’s hard to believe someone as clearly self-aware as McCoy intends lyrics like "give away this TV of yours. Tell your parents you don’t appreciate their gift and developing common bonds with you will never happen" to be taken at face value.
The extent of care put into packaging this record certainly bears mentioning. I don’t wish to spoil any surprises, but I’ll just say every conceivable detail has been taken into consideration, as with the music contained therein. A McCoy-penned essay entitled “The Realization of a Failure” outlines the band’s purpose in willful obscurity and inaccessibility, as well as a larger view of the artist’s context within society. Never before has it been possible to spend so much time with every aspect of such a short album, and the hidden depths within can suck an unsuspecting listener into the black hole of Failures easily. Their dedication to perfection of their brutality shows. A more daring (and more successful) hardcore album is scant in 2008, no matter what Matador’s one-sheets say. And to think it came from a bunch of middle-aged Failures.