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“When you get older you will see no one says what they mean.”
That’s Jason Rivera, on an album in which he says what he means, alerting you to the lies while telling you the truth. It’s a convincing combination, especially if the listener is the intended kid. But what makes Rivera an exciting new everyman prophet, not a lesser rhetorician or inciter of youth, is also what makes him gleefully absurd and threatens to undo his plain-spoken authority, like increasingly strange figurative language (“MANhattan,” a Portlander’s vision of big city life) and scatological humor (“Poocano,” enough said). Those are some of the elements that make the lyric sheet for Hold Me … But Not So Tight, the fourth album by Rivera’s power trio Gaytheist, such a perplexing, fascinating read. Still, transparency wins as their best quality. A band like Gaytheist could choose to protect its mystique, and the audience might go for it, not knowing any better or scared to probe the identity of a band that makes itself formidable and rare by name alone, or simply in love with the mystery. Instead, knowing that political beings gain nothing by concealing themselves, Gaytheist sing the woes of common, therefore legitimate, punks.
The songs on Hold Me are topical, though sometimes only as a function of the world’s endless carousel of stupidity. “60 Easy Payments” is about a facet of capitalism old enough that D. Boon could’ve written a song about it. And he probably did, but left it as shit from an old notebook. Which isn’t to say the song needs to be discarded (sometimes notebooks need a purge), but while Hold Me is as succinct as pretty much any Minutemen album (save one), it sometimes feels less like a product of editorial control than even Double Nickels on the Dime. What makes Gaytheist more single-minded and uncensored than Minutemen, is, well, exactly that, the absence of a tangible intellectual foil to Rivera’s Boon. More wattage, less Watt-age, you could say. If this band did an album cover in the style of Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat, instead of two guys in profile shouting pictures of ideas at each other, there’d be one guy shouting pictures straight on, surrounded by the noisy squiggles of his band. Of course I have no idea how the band’s internal political process plays out behind the scenes, and there’s also plenty in these lyrics that’s uncertain, contradictory, and astoundingly funny (like “Elderly Assassin,” in which Rivera ends up buying dinner for the guy he thought he was supposed to kill, his threat of “say goodbye” now a weaselly apology). But in this unasked-for battle of the bands, Gaytheist read as slightly more vulnerable in the unity of their attack, Minutemen stronger in the fog of eternal debate.
If I’m spending too much time on the lyrics and their effect, blame Rivera. He’s the one who generously creates the opportunity to talk about them, on a hardcore punk album (or “fast rock,” per the album’s Bandcamp tags) of all things! I can count on the fingers of one hand, probably, the number of times his voice edges into a scream. Mostly he delivers his vocals as an articulate wail, more Corin Tucker than Greg Graffin but never losing a single word. (The lyrics are included with the album download but you’ll hardly need to reference them.) When I saw Gaytheist live in March (a “non-threatening display of the most violent aspects of the male,” etc.), the music was supremely tidy, but also too loud, obviously, to make the lyrics decipherable. The efficient production of Hold Me answers this by providing the clean view of the elements, i.e. what each guy is doing, exactly, that a rougher, louder concert can provide by sight. It almost feels like no translation occurred.
What each guy is doing, exactly, is perfect and contained fury, shredding aligned in triplicate (drummers can shred, too, right?). At the same time, they’re making modest concessions to accessibility, probably for no other reason than to make their dynamic musicianship as apparent as possible. So along with the clean sound, there are sing- and shout-along choruses, awesome riffs, and a small, incremental feeling that Gaytheist’s catalog is evolving (no, not evolving, just changing, because like silent cinema these guys always knew what they wanted to do) in the accepted way (the one Hunx & His Punx so awesomely spurn on their new Street Punk), while retaining the complexity of interplay that is their base operating level. At 27 minutes, Hold Me contains more music, that is, instances of distinct beings achieving moments together, than most of the year’s major releases. And, I think not just as a result of the brevity or the physical sprint, it never becomes rote and never loses the rhythm to all the hyperactive patterning. Did Gaytheist start with a sense of time and gradually insert details, or did they start with undirected energy and formless density and organize it into a sense of time? I could never figure out how bands like this become great. Jason Rivera on guitar, Nick Parks on drums, and Tim Hoff on bass, if I failed to mention that.
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