Direct Hit! / Pears - Human Movement (Cover Artwork)

Direct Hit! / Pears

Human Movement (2017)

Fat Wreck Chords

This is the split no one knew they should have been wanting all along. As co-titans of the aggro pop punk revolution, this is a match made in heaven; with Direct Hit! generally settling in pop punk with occasional diversions into hardcore, and Pears occupying the heavier side of the spectrum with melodic affectations breaking through every now and then.

While, I’ve long been a pretty huge fan of Pears’ material (I found Green Star to be tad less impactful than desired, but all of my criticisms of that record were founded on comparisons to the unattainable standards the band had set for themselves with their debut), Direct Hit! has, ironically, been pretty hit or miss for me. Domesplitter brought a refreshing perspective to melodic hardcore, paving the way for the existence of bands like Pears, and their follow up, Brainless God, while less downright aggressive, had the creativity and strong writing to back up its cleaner presentation. But 2016’s Wasted Mind was where I seemed to diverge from the general consensus. Sure, there were some killer singles scattered throughout that record, and “Forced to Sleep” as well as “Paid in the Brains” have certainly demonstrated their longevity, but overall, I thought Wasted Mind was bloated with forgettable, or, at the very least, blatantly formulaic filler.

However, Direct Hit!’s side of Human Movement is starting to win me back over. It’s not revolutionary, but the band seems to be employing more variety from track to track, and the two openers embody this concept perfectly. In fact (though I might be getting a bit ahead of myself), “You Got What You Asked For” parallels Pears’ “You’re Boring” quite nicely, at least in terms of sequential function. It’s short, but it hits the ground running with minimal dynamics, as to maintain its vivacity without making any significant dips in aggression. This blood pumping introduction helps to instill a bit more momentum into the band’s first single, “Blood on Your Tongue”.

I liked “Blood on Your Tongue” well enough at first listen, but it did feel somewhat meandering. The context of this record gives the single a much needed sense of direction by taking “You Got What You Asked For”’s energy and fashioning it into more traditional song structure. That’s not to say that no aspect of this song stands on it’s own, though; “Blood on Your Tongue” is based around Direct Hit!’s signature sparkly synth lead/assertive instrumental backdrop to create a larger than life sonic palate, and this song’s synth melody is quite the earworm.

The next two tracks are easily the most disposable of Direct Hit!’s side of Human Movement, but they’re not without merit. “Open Your Mind” boasts a explosive introduction and a killer bassline underscoring its verses. While, “Open Your Mind” would have gotten lost amongst the tracklist of Wasted Mind, it’s unique amongst this crop of songs, and sure to please fans of that record.

“Shifting the Blame” is more along the lines of Brainless God but its verses are without an incredibly distinctive melody. Other than that, this is a really solid embodiment of some of my favorite aspects of Direct Hit!. Furthermore, “Shifting the Blames”’s bridge is killer with its engaging organizational progression, cumulating in Woods’ solo vocal performance of (a slight variation on) its title.

I’m somewhat torn on Direct Hit!’s take on “You’re Boring”. The band stays a tad too true to the original for the first ten seconds, to the point where they’ve nearly created a carbon copy of it. This false sense of familiarity makes the cover’s deviations from the original all the more disorienting. The new version of “You’re Boring” breaks into half time for the chorus, overlain with an assemblage of harmonizing synths, and swaps the second verse with the outro, creating a cliffhanger for the band to resolve with their last contribution to Human Movement, “Nothing”.

On my first listen through Human Movement, when I was still unacquainted to the record’s sequencing, I assumed “Nothing” to be the opener to Pears’ side of the record, and maintain that it’s presented in a way that makes its origins ambiguous, without the aid of a written tracklist. The atonal animalism of Woods’ delivery masks his distinctive vocal inflections, and the instrumentation deviates from the poppier approach to songwriting I’ve come to expect of Direct Hit! at this stage in their career. Of the five originals Direct Hit! puts to tape on this split “Nothing” is easily my highlight.

The spike in aggression that is “Nothing” sets the stage perfectly for Pears’ contributions, starting with what instantly became one of my favorite Pears singles of all time. “Hey There, Begonia” kicks off with a wall bassy production, accented by a drum part consisting of mostly toms to carry its inaugural guitar riff, before breaking into a menacing vocal passage with subtle melody if any. After just a couple of lines, the band breaks into a short lived jingle of a chorus, before bringing back the fuller arrangement to give the rest of the refrain a heavier air. From there, “Hey There, Begonia” is just a series of left turns (my favorite being the remarkably smooth integration of System Of A Down’s “Chop Suey”), which would render the track a compositional jumble if not for the conviction with which it’s performed. This song isn’t so much meandering around the room as it is bouncing off the walls: depriving listeners of a single moment where they could conceivably try and comprehend what is going on.

“The Mollusk's Mouth” is an angular take on Pears’ standard approach to melodic hardcore. The instrumentation’s complex rhythmic quirk and Zach Quinn’s rapid-fire vocal delivery during the transitional sequences, set “The Mollusk’s Mouth” apart from the pack. This track also marks a distinct shift to a more contemporarily hardcore sound for Pears. The band seems to be embracing some of the more breakdown-centric aspects of bands like Turnstile and Knocked Loose, but they do it with enough sonic charisma to keep from getting as generic as that genre’s most prominent figureheads.

“Arduous Angel” didn’t quite hit me on the first listen, but it’s certainly grown on me over the past month. The production is punchy and robust and the melody is one of the band’s catchiest to date. Moreover, “Arduous Angel” is just an all around thrill to listen to. Subtitles like the choral arrangements around the line “gathered here to mourn” and faint piano inflection under the last chorus bring this piece to life.

One of my favorite facets of this band is the way they’re able to set brutal hardcore passages alongside the most chipper of melodies without sacrificing a natural compositional flow. “Misery Conquerors the World” is a perfect example of this concept: particularly in its refrain. Though it is, on the whole, the track with the least substantial impact of this five song crop, “Misery Conquerors the World” lays claim to the most instantly memorable moment of Human Movement, when the band suddenly breaks into Drowning Pool’s “Bodies”. If you’re keeping score, we’re now two for four on nu metal samples.

After “Misery Conquerors the World” spirals into beautiful wreckage we’re treated to what may be the greatest musical bait and switch of the year. Pears, like Direct Hit!, start their cover innocuously enough. Other than a slightly heightened tempo, they don’t change all too much about “The World is Ending” until the vocals kick in, and we’re greeted to the first verse of Brainless God’s other big single, “Buried Alive”. They quickly transition back into the cover advertised, only to pull another modern pop punk rickroll, with the addition of the refrain to Masked Intruder’s “Heart Shaped Guitar”. It’s two minutes of expectational subversions and clever altercations (such Quinn’s decision to censor Woods’ transitional scream to, simply, “f you!”). It’s clear that the band had fun with the song and that translates into the listening experience.

Pears attempts to follow this up as provocatively as they can by inciting a full on Code Orange style hook to kick off the closer, “Never Now”. This turns out to be yet another sonic deception as they immediately launch back something more suited to their strengths. “Never Now” is an extremely concise, yet thrilling ride of a closer to an incredible effort from both parties.

While I have every reason to believe that Human Movement came about naturally, out of a mutual respect and acquaintanceship between bands, the result feels tailored to please the fans. If you've enjoyed either (or, more likely, both) of these bands' past work, Human Movement is unlikely to disappoint. That said, both bands find a way to balance familiarity with progress so that, no matter what you’re looking to get out of this record, you’re likely to find it.