Chotto Ghetto - Sparkles (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Chotto Ghetto

Sparkles (2012)

Asian Man Records

Pretty much by any standard, punk rock has become safe and even worse, placated. Where Darby Crash used to writhe around on stage as a "puzzled panther," now the fans are content with a guy and an acoustic guitar and a lousy John Cougar Mellencamp impression. Where Chumbawamba would describe the bloody crucifixion of Cliff Richard with glee, now the fans are content to hear about friendship and whiskey. Where the Feederz would fire AK-47 blanks into the audience, now fans are content to stand still to "make sure everyone can see." Even most hardcore, which is believed to be the most dangerous of punk, is fairly safe. Bands might scream about nuclear apocalypse and have grinding guitar sounds, but the songs all follow the standard formula of minute-thirty cacophony, which is just as familiar and safe as the guys in flannel.

Danger is a necessary element for punk. Like jazz, only through addressing scary concepts and venturing into unpleasant sonic territories can bands, and fans, form new concepts, expand their mind and frankly, be truly entertained. Without this element of uncertainty, punk has gone from a tool of exploration to plain, vanilla yogurt.

Chotto Ghetto's Sparkles is the element of danger that punk has been sorely lacking for years. If anything, the band makes the point to keep the listener continually off-guard and perpetually in fear. For example, "These Kids Crave Discipline" begins with a Refused-style, herky jerky hardcore riff, but then suddenly, warps into a trippy, acid washed soliloquy, only to flip to the sound of a donkey screaming, only to have "Bermuda" start with an R&B style chorus which then leads into a murky '20s prohibition jazz segment.

But, the constant shifting isn't random. Rather, each separate piece allows the listener to settle into a comfortable spot, before pulling out the carpet. The band bases their sound around modern, loud, sloppy hardcore. Most songs begin with a crushing riff or charging thrash, and then, just a little after the groove settles in, and it seems like the band has defined themselves, they suddenly spin into a different direction. "Drive Time" begins as an Ink and Dagger-style energetic hardcore snap, only to suddenly bleed into a merging of Slayer breakdowns and Corrosion of Conformity sewer guitars…and while its a pure surprise when it happens, after the onslaught is over, it all makes perfect sense.

There is a certain order to the random attacks; they just take some time to perceive. Chotto Ghetto doesn't deliver what people expect. Rather, like mid-period (or even Damaged-era) Black Flag, the band continually exists just a few feet outside of the expected, challenging the listener to keep up. If the listener makes the dangerous leap, the sonic world is suddenly widened and what was bizarre and scary now makes perfect.

And that's probably what makes Sparkles so successful. It's not sheer cacophony. There is an order to it, and it's not a constant pummeling. It does allow for one to submerge into and understand each of the chambers. Then, when the individual chambers seem safe and make sense, the entire world changes and danger emerges in the very place one thought one was safe.