What better way to roll out 2018 than immediately accounting for what one may have missed in 2017. The internet regularly overwhelms, mystifies, and buries me in high quality cultural products, and I never feel more inadequate when I see just how little I’ve managed to engage with over the previous year. If you saw my Bandcamp receipts you might disagree, but my wishlist is still far too bloated, and knowing I’ll never be able to fully process so much potentially fantastic work keeps me up at night.
Still, come New Year’s Day I threw some birthday cash at the aforementioned wishlist, and found a few late 2017 top ten contenders I wish I had wrestled with on release day. Two albums in particular will likely set my status for 2018 and beyond: Eat the rich.
When I caught news of a forthcoming Report Suspicious Activity record, trepidatious optimism washed over me. This is a kind of supergroup for post-emotive hardcore fans, which is about as academically useless a music journalism portmanteau as anyone has ever put to screen. Still, it makes a solid case though the players are a little weathered: Super-producer J. Robbins and his bandmate and session drummer exemplar Darren Zentek, who played in Kerosene 454 with Erik Denno, all take up arms to backup proto-emo pioneers Articles of Faith’s Vic Bondi. Report Suspicious Activity has recorded two other LPs before Leviathan, primarily during the Bush era and meshed in the anger of those days. Less active throughout Obama’s tenure, it wasn’t long after the election of Trump that Bondi got the boys back together to raise a socio-political ruckus.
RSA operates under a standard though still impeccably constructed rock setup, with alternately swirling and stuttering guitars, crunchy bass, plaintive wails and howling roars. They reach back into the sounds of their discographies, that D.C. hardcore rally of vinegared frustration, but youth’s nihilistic despair no longer applies. With the weight of a life lived and families raised in this tumultuous and often disappointing world RSA slams out of the gate with a swell of distortion that sets the tone for 2017 at large, but Leviathan as a whole can’t subsist purely on punk rage. After boiling up for the first few tracks, the rest of the album simmers on the abyss, hopelessness, a swing in both the kit and the lyrical reckoning of the state of our world and country. Vic does most of the singing but Erik and J. chime in as well, all holding the state, the rich, and religious hypocrisy to task, equally sardonic and encouraging. They aren’t giving into hopelessness, but sharpening their cynicism to a deadly point.
Leviathan ends with an updated recording of an older song, the kind that almost chokes on the tongue pressed so firmly in cheek. But I’m no longer certain they’re wearing wryness with “Subtle,” with a chorus of “Red / white / and bullshit” and verses that name the current GOP hobgoblins by name. It’s not enough but it’s also exactly what I need for 2018, something to sing to myself whenever I see a MAGA hat at the airport or I’m cutting another student loan check to the insatiable usury machine.
Leviathan is record of various intensities that perfectly captures my mood for this transition between years, but I’m not content to wallow in fluctuations of rage. I want to dance as the revolution rumbles on. Which is a sentiment that Antibalas has been hinging on since they started waving the Fela Kuti flag nearly two decades ago. The funk-jazz-afrobeat collective dropped Where the Gods are in Peace last September but I took it for granted, presuming its groovy bonafides but sitting on the album as a whole as I picked through the rest of the year’s offerings. Finally I gave it a spin and like most of Antibalas’s discography, I swayed from start to finish, getting lost in the horns and snuggling right up with the beats.
And yet, Where the Gods are in Peace has truly pushed the group beyond their influences. Fela still floats between the bars, but where he was comfortable setting up and riding a line for an extended period, Antibalas has too many members to give any one melody or part precedence for an entire song, breathing through each track with a consistent arc and evolution through sections and solos. Duke Amayo really brings Kuti back to life with his fierce progressivist lyrics, continuing to weave his poetic polemics as another spice in the stew. He’s never overbearing, instead he grounds the band in a strict anti-oligitarian position. “Gold Rush” gallops out as the first single and sets the pace with a call to revive the first nations, singing for the rights of those crushed by the colonial machines of history. It’s a groove of righteous fury and the rest of the album continues with that same slither, a hypnotic conjuring of hip-shaking call for justice, never overwhelming but always offering more to parse in every listen.
It’s too late to blow up the #UWCanYouHang marathon playlist, which is a damn shame because like every year I find a few records too late to cry out for from the mountain. But Report Suspicious Activity and Antibalas both will bolster my righteous rage playlists for years to come, content to plant their anti-fascist earworms one dancefloor or shout-along at a time.