We’ve already vilified ourselves for missing Street Sects‘s 2016 monster End Position, and if you haven’t heard it either, feel free to go spin the record now and share in our shame. The duo of multi-instrumentalist Shaun Ringsmuth and vocalist Leo Ashline came through with an exceptional dose of hyper-aggressive synth punk on End Position, making a bold statement in a genre defined by intensifying punk and its offshoots’ many disparate mannerisms. Not only was the album a debut that far exceeded the benchmark for a successful freshman full-length, it received well-deserved praise from the fickle beast that is the indie blogosphere. Perhaps the album’s success can be attributed to endorsement of well-respected “dark music” label The Flenser, or it could be due to the growing acceptance of heavy music as part of “normal” music consumption. However, there’s one undisputed factor for End Positions‘s success, being the album’s undeniably impressive blend of industrial music and hardcore punk in a way that synth punk hasn’t seen done this well before. Seriously, if you haven’t heard this record, stop reading and go listen to it now; I won’t be offended, I promise.
Not only should you listen to End Position to experience a quality record, you should also use it as a primer for its follow-up, Rat Jacket. The 4-song EP “is not a direct follow-up,” according to The Flenser. Instead, Street Sects used the brief project as a means of “maintaining the sample-based foundation that is the core of the band’s sound” while embracing “experiments with melody and organic instrumentation.” And sure enough, the first moments of “Blacken the Other Eye” make this point clear—with natural-sounding drums, more focused electronics and what seem to be processed guitars, Street Sects have taken the formula they unleashed on End Position and crafted a much more linear, fleshed out crop of songs. This approach to molding their synth punk roots brings some more diverse punk and rock aesthetics into the mix, including the post-hardcore and noise rock sensibilities of The Jesus Lizard and even some of the moodier, less theatrical moments from Marilyn Manson‘s back catalog. Now, with such a sudden shift in sound, the natural line of questioning is aimed towards the success of this new direction; even if this isn’t a true successor to End Position, does it still serve as another worthy new chapter in the band’s budding career?
If you’ve heard lead single “Blacken the Other Eye,” then you know the answer to that is a resounding “yes.” There seems to be a trend of apprehension surrounding the idea of a band making music in a new direction; regardless of the music’s quality or lack thereof, fans have a predisposed hesitation toward the idea of an abandonment of old methods and embracing of new territory. In my view, these shifts should only be met with neutral curiosity, as some of the best evolution’s in heavy music have come from a complete divergence from an established style (Earth, Mayhem, Ulver, etc.). “Blacken the Other Eye”—and the entirety of Rat Jacket, for that matter—should quell doubts that Street Sects are dialing back their sound or losing their bite, as the duo’s experimentation shows an aptitude for songwriting that will only enhance future efforts from the band. Having more tools in your arsenal is always a good thing, especially when it leads to enticing tracks like these that leave the future looking bright (or in the case of Street Sects’s music, charmingly bleak).
All of the defining, enhancing qualities of latching onto post-punk are on display throughout “Blacken the Other Eye,” which feels like a mid-paced Dillinger Escape Plan song acting as the surrogate mother for the lovechild of Marilyn Manson and Depeche Mode. The duo still isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, though, and Ashline proves this point by unleashing an anthemic display of screams as the track slowly implodes on itself at its conclusion. Post-punk is even more prominently displayed on “Total Immunity,” with a driving, danceable beat hoisting up hypnotic electronics. Ashline channels his inner Jamie Stewart for an emotive, Xiu Xiu-esque vocal performance that lurks within the murk of the instrumental and pierces out accordingly as the music builds and releases.
Rat Jacket then ventures into its beefier second half, with two of the longest tracks the band has recorded to date. At five minutes, “Early Release” unfolds like a standard post-punk track and sounds the parts as well, with a sharp, glistening guitar hook dancing above an infectious drum beat and synth tones that play a valuable support role in the whole affair. Ashline remains in control on the track, maintaining a typical post-punk croon for most of the track before signaling the end with his signature, abrasive yell. Finally, the darkness of “In Prison, at Least I Had You” brings the EP to a haunting close, opening with some Coil-inspired textures before breaking into what is arguably the duo’s catchiest composition to date. Street Sects often flirted with the melodic-angst of Deftones on End Position, an influence which shines through on “In Prison, at Least I Had You” with the addition of an alluring enhancement of Chino and crew’s affinity for the melancholy of post-punk. Its apparent inspirations like these that demonstrate the value Street Sects bring to synth punk; the duo is completely unafraid of engaging in whatever form of songcraft that best produces results, whether that’s paying aggressive homages to “Frankie Teardrop” or splicing the genre’s blueprint with numerous other stylistic foundations.
After End Position, the purveying thought on my mind was that the band will earn a spot among the greatest acts on synth punk’s pantheon. After listening to Rat Jacket, it’s clear they’ve already begun their ascension and will only continue to grow further distant from their peers on the ground. Though most EPs serve as a burying ground for questionable cover songs, demos and b-sides, Rat Jacket is an essential puzzle piece in Street Sects’s journey to further refine their sound. The duo doesn’t have to incorporate these moody post-punk themes into their aggressive brand of synth punk to be successful, but the fact their skillset is this multifaceted should serve to whet the palate of listeners who enjoy any of the styles the band operates in. If the band can so capably execute these two sounds, one can only imagine what intense synthesis awaits us on the band’s next record. Let’s hope the proximity of Rat Jacket and End Position indicates the band’s actual “direct follow-up” is looming in the shadows on the horizon.
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Rat Jacket is available 10/6 via The Flenser.