The Conversions - Prisoners' Inventions [12 inch] (Cover Artwork)

The Conversions

Prisoners' Inventions [12 inch] (2007)


If nothing else can be said for it, Prisoners' Inventions is a conversely rewarding and frustrating listen. It certainly does more to challenge hardcore conventions than most records of the subgenre that came out lat year. The obvious problem of this is that it sacrifices accessibility. While an extremely interesting listen, it's so simultaneously dense and complex that even though it clocks in at a paltry 26 minutes, it may overstay its welcome for many. Throughout the first few listens, I found few hooks or choruses to clutch to. They become a little more obvious with repeated listening, but they're weird, to be sure; the most effective hook, on "Big Game," is merely one chord and two notes strummed off-kilter.

Most of the songs are up-tempo, frantic, and include numerous change-ups. The few slower songs are a welcome break. I've heard this record described as being very "start-stop," which is pretty damn apt. It's amazing that the Conversions are as tight as they are. It's easy to be taken aback by the guitar tone, which is only slightly heavier and more distorted than other contemporaries like Margaret Thrasher or the Vicious. The guitar can be driven by chunky riffs or noodly. Vocalist Terry makes little effort to vary her vocal stylings; her punishing wail/scream offers the listener little solace.

Most of the lyrics are shrouded in obscurity. I really have to go out on a limb to guess what is being talked about. The words seem to (for obvious reasons) have a distinctly female point of view, which is something that has cropped up on their previous releases. Topics tackled include work, rape, the U.S. invasion of the Middle East, abortion and the simultaneous hope and hopelessness of punk. At least, I hope they do. You have to draw what you can from lyrics like "speak in that tone / this chip won't form on its own / without feeding off your drone."

The title track begins with feedback-laden, spazzy guitar noise, and seems largely improvisational until it gets to the quirky, anthemic chorus chant of "be prepared!" This duality characterizes the album; it's alternately discordant (in an extremely tight way) and twisted hardcore in a way similar to fellow Bostonians Positive Reinforcement. I think a good reference point would be to say that they exist in the land squarely between Posi Force and the arty dissonance of Das Oath or even a little bit of Melt-Banana (which should make the amount of inspiration they owe to `80s hardcore apparent).

The Conversions' sound is singularly theirs, though. The decidedly unpolished recording quality accentuates this. I was surprised that something on Level-Plane would be this rough, but I later found out they recorded the LP before they had a label lined up to release it.

An album of such depth is worthy of attention from anyone interested in the side of hardcore that is decidedly un-tough guy and willing to challenge conventions. It's a testament to the flexibility of punk culture that an album so "out there" can still fall so squarely under the indistinct umbrella of "punk." Contrary to what Victory and similar labels would have you believe, there's plenty of room for experimentation in hardcore in 2008.