I’m not much of a believer in things like fate or otherworldliness, but damn, the universe sure has a way of landing a great record right in my lap at the exact moment that I was least expecting it. Had I known that The Estranged’s members were associated with crusty hardcore acts like Hellshock, From Ashes Rise, Lebenden Toten, and Remains of the Day — and not only that, but that they were also capable of making post-punk, death-rock, and other subgenres that require hyphenated descriptors sound this textured, un-cold, and, well, fun — I would have sought them out long ago. Up until this point, the seven-year existence of this band has somehow slipped underneath the magnetic pull of my (previously believed to be) all-punk-encompassing radar.
Sometimes the unyielding pace of today’s musical release schedule makes it hard for a record to fully sink in before it’s on to the next “essential” or “crucial” piece of wax, which is really unfortunate because this LP deserves many repeated listens. The production value is slick, and really adds to the overall richness of the album. On songs like “Hide” and “If Everything” the amped treble of Mark Herman’s guitar is contrasted nicely against the warm, rhythmic undertones of bassist Derek Willman and drummer Keith Testerman. Meanwhile Herman’s vocals project a feeling of gloomy despair; he hits somewhere Morrissey’s insipid frankness and Davey Havok’s sulkier dejection. In the middle of the album, on “Languid Skies” and the subsequent “Mark of Sin,” the band stretches things out a little, adding some longish guitar-heavy rock ‘n roll jam parts that are reminiscent of The Men’s last album New Moon.
A little research finds The Estranged’s sound is often compared to that of The Cure and/or Echo & The Bunnymen. While this is perchance a bit lazy, it is not at all inaccurate. That is to say, in addition to the previously mentioned post-punk and death-rock, they do incorporate vibrant rudiments that recall the gothic romanticism of early ‘80s British college rock. But for this particular record, perhaps a more accurate comparison would be Gang of Four. This release finds the band striking a seamless juxtaposition of jangly guitar, moody vocals, and body movement-inducing groove.
2013 was a great year for punk, and with handful of stellar offerings already, the trend looks to continue in 2014. You can go ahead and add The Estranged’s self-titled LP to the list — alongside Brain F≠’s Empty Set, Iron Hand’s Injected Fear, and Acid Fast’s Rabid Moon — of the year’s best punk records so far.
(Dirtnap Records, 3840 SE Gladstone Street, Portland, OR 97202)