Just before Christmas, I had a little run through some of my favourite 12-inch releases from 2023 (A Rage Undiminished) – but what about last year’s 7-inch releases? I know that a lot of people will consider both alongside one another, but for me the art of delivering a stand-out full-length versus a belter of an EP is rather different.
Typically, to craft a successful album demands a set of a songs that create both a cohesive mood but are also sufficiently dynamic to embrace the listener in a manner that engages them throughout and, on occasion, surprises them. By definition, a 7-inch offers less scope for such differentiation and evolution – the urgency of delivering your statement as a band is both amplified and, to a certain extent, simplified.
So, what characterises a great EP release? Broadly speaking, I think there are two routes to the memorable 7-inch. Route one is to embrace the brevity of the format and use it as an opportunity to distil your sound to its very essence. Intensity is the key, an unrelenting vehemency that people might find overwhelming across an album, can be unleashed without any such concerns and, indeed, if well executed will leave people actively gasping for more.
Three standout 7-inchs that followed this route for me last year were from Sial, Drill Sergeant, and Consolation. Singapore’s Sial were back, as visceral as ever, with Sangkar, a follow-up to 2021’s vividly experimental, at times almost psychedelic, Zaman Eden. This release saw the band fold those experimental urges back into the strictures of their tense, raw hardcore origins to utterly devastating effect. A record that is abrasive and uncompromising to its very core – relentless, dense riffage, leavened with moments of arresting sonic invention. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s Drill Sergeant unleashed Grim New War, by way of a follow-up to their 2021 full-length, Vile Ebb. The band skilfully marry a rapid-fire US hardcore stomp with swaggering breakdowns as venomous vocals explore the cognitive dissonance that fuels authoritarian populism and climate change denial. And while Sial and Drill Sergeant continued to rigorously refine their sound, Consolation debuted theirs on Repulsive Reflections. Noise-infused hardcore punk that sees desperation-soaked vocals roared across discordant, groove-laden guitars and a thunderous yet fluid rhythm section. Lyrically, the EP examines how our current political and economic system has driven hope and optimism from people’s lives – a ‘spiritual theft’.
The second route, and perhaps the inherently more challenging one, is to ensure that you have one song that is so insanely infectious that you simply can’t help replacing the needle back to the start as soon as the side finishes, again and again and again.
For me, there were two leading examples of this, well I suppose it is more of an outcome than an actual approach, last year. First up, was the very welcome return of Hygiene with their EP, 15 Minute City. The title track, which dissects the alt-right’s bizarre interpretation of the urban planning concept, is a wonderfully boisterous three-minute harmonised eruption, the very embodiment of Hygiene at their jauntily sardonic best. And as a great as the flipside tracks LTN and Petrol are, you can’t help but keep repeatedly returning to it. An added side benefit has been the encouragement to dust off the band’s cracking earlier works and the restoration of the chant of Bring Back British Rail (from 2019’s Private Sector) to our kitchen table was long overdue. Also forging this route was Madrid’s Rata Negra on their latest release, Bien Triste. Now the title track inevitably grabs attention being an intriguing departure for the band in its plaintively sombre layering. But it is the perhaps more archetypal track, Ella Está En Fiestas, that I can’t resist. It captures almost perfectly that sense of the unrequited at the heart of the band’s darkly melancholic melodic punk and the way it builds irresistibly to its rattling, raucous climax keeps me coming back.
And, as it turns out, there is also a third option, which is to unleash a fearsome combination of both intensity and unadulterated catchiness – step forward, JJ And The A’s with their debut self-titled EP. Just as the band’s pedigree (former members of Khiis and Cesspool) does little to inform their execution beyond the fiercely crafted songwriting, equally their sound is an incredibly difficult one to pin-down, blending as it does a high-octane hardcore velocity with a wonderfully unrestrained pop sensibility. In many respects, it brings to mind Slow Ends similarly inventive full-length, Obsolete Bodies, in its intrinsic ability to seamlessly fuse and intertwine a myriad of quite distinct influences to the point where they feel organically as one, as if you were mad to even consider that they should ever have been apart.
And so there were we have it. Short, sharp but never to be underestimated, the art of the hardcore punk 7-inch is alive and well.