As obsessive music fans, we have a pretty intense love/hate relationship with the constant onslaught of new music that crosses our paths on a weekly basis. By the time we sit down to compile our Release Day Roundup every Thursday, there’s a whole new slate of records that we need to tack onto our backlogs of new albums from weeks past, a list that remains replete throughout the year. This being the case, there are bound to be a handful of these albums that slip through the cracks, only to cross our paths months or years later and leave us wondering what possible reason we could have had to not listen to it sooner. While the time has passed to recommend these albums for your 2017 year end lists, we’ve decided to tweak our typical “Hey! Listen to…” series to launch Heavy Delinquency, which will allow us to talk about albums we slept on and make sure they receive the attention they deserve.
Which brings us to Street Sects, the inspiration for this column and one of the greatest bands in modern synth punk. The trajectory of synth punk has followed a parabolic path—bands like Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, Fad Gadget, Liaisons Dangereuses and especially Suicide laid the foundation for synth punk and a myriad of punk offshoots in the late 70s and early 80s before a significant lull in the genre, which picked back up in the 2000s with groups like Cheveu, POLYSICS, Sleaford Mods and Xiu Xiu. The digitally-focused approach to punk aesthetics has overall retained its niche place in the punk cannon, however, and as with any off-kilter approach to a staple genre, it’s often difficult for purveyors of the style to pierce through the veil of the underground and snag the attention of the indie blogosphere. Sleaford Mods and Xiu Xiu have both succeeded at this, but to be fair, they’ve both incorporated other sounds into their approach or ventured into new territory entirely.
That’s why the widespread fascination with End Position interested me, both when it released last September and even more so now that I’ve finally heard the duo’s aggressive collision of the darkest corners of industrial and hardcore. Suffice it to say, we likely won’t be seeing Street Sects cover Nina Simone or Twin Peaks any time soon; the duo maintains a razor sharp focus on being as intense and unsettling as possible with their sonic palate and compositional techniques. End Position benefits immensely from this no frills approach across 10 carefully balanced tracks, all of which attack with punk’s enraged ferocity within a run time that ensures the perfect amount of room for ideas to fully flourish. And for that, multi-instrumentalist Shaun Ringsmuth deserves an enormous amount of credit. Armed with punchy drum programming and synth tones, Ringsmuth navigates pummeling percussive syncopation and eerie landscapes and often splices the two worlds for a maximized effect. The result is the distilled aggression of Big Black, Godflesh, Nine Inch Nails and Xiu Xiu poured into a Molotov cocktail and thrown at all that plagues the world.
After “And I Grew into Ribbons” immediately jolts End Position into motion, “Copper in the Slots” provides a perfect example of this formula in action. In just under two minutes, the track’s electronics shift between popping accents for a boisterous snare to distorted carnival melodies to the soundtrack to a synthwave nightmare, all while hurtling along with the percussion’s breakneck pace. All of this is tied together by Leo Ashline’s deranged vocals, which capture the intensity of Greg Puciato and the emotive qualities of Jamie Stewart and pair them with a delivery all his own. Ashline growls, sneers and shrieks throughout End Position, often rotating between numerous styles to match the constantly shifting music unleashed by Ringsmuth.
The duo demonstrate beautiful chemistry throughout the album and leave every track feeling like a standout moment. “In Defense of Resentment” opens with arena-sized industrial synths before succumbing to subdued darkness, and as it ebbs and flows through rolling snyth lines and screeching noise, Ashline capably moves between spoken word, screaming and singing to fit the mood. And whether it’s the light, relatively beautiful atmosphere of “Featherweight Hate” or the all out assault on “Victims of Nostalgia,” the duo remain solidly linked and focused on covering as much sonic territory as possible. With concluding track “If This Is What Passes For Living,” the duo release the last of their rage through a massive, repetitious riff before fading into the shadows with a consuming cloud of feedback and noise.
End Position‘s endless and masterful kaleidoscope of moods is one that I regret waiting a full year to experience. Not only would the album have earned a high spot on my year end list for 2016, but I would have used this platform to highlight the album at every opportunity. Fans of punk, industrial and heavy music in general should pay close attention to what Ringsmuth and Ahsline are concocting for their next full-length. Even if it’s just a continuation of their formula, it’ll still be one of the most vicious releases of the year within all of the genres they excel at leveraging into their synth punk assault.
End Position is available now via The Flenser.