4 out of 5
Produced by: Kurt Ballou
Hardcore punk acts are a dime a dozen, especially on Deathwish. I mean, that’s kind of purposeful for their output: pick up a new Deathwish record, and 9 out of 10 are likely some flavor of screaming and instrument thrashing, as produced by Kurt Ballou, and also admittedly of a certain quality. Derivative just as often, sure, but if the scene is your bag, it’s a good and consistent source. Ballou’s raw, low-end heavy production stylings can be responsible for sharpening up some acts right away (and burying the better aspects of others, fair enough), but even given the wide spread of good-sounding, better-than-average releases, standouts are rare. Three chords; shouting; swearing; ad nauseam. Having some extra element of instrumental virtuosity, or a notable singer, can go a long way, and when you’re a band who can combine several of those things – say, like Converge – you can really make an impact.
So it’s definitely valuable when a Deathwish release provides notable, contemplative lyrics. That’s a standout element. I can go rah-rah along with “fuck yous” well enough, but it’s tired and, when the pummeling of the music passes, pretty juvenile. Lewd Acts’ Black Eye Blues’ lyrics are grabbing, and thoughtful. They can deliver ‘fuck you’ and ‘my life is so sad’ aspects via elevated prose – already a plus – but then go far beyond that to crafting a narrative: one that’s personal but open enough to invite one’s own readings. The songs seem to track a narrator’s experiences from youth to death (physical or metaphorical), struggling to remain hopeful at the outset but succumbing to disappointments and drink towards the end. That’s a typical enough tale, but the way in which it’s told is powerful, and incredibly inventive and stirring at points. The singer’s occasional Rancid-esque talk-rasp delivers the words clearly and emotively, and though the songs tell a story, things are still constructed into chorus and verse – it’s not just a ramble. I also appreciate that the song titles mean something within each song – it’s not just a choice phrase chosen to sound good.
Ballou also surprised on his production here by not doing his usual Ballou thing of destroying all subtlety – he lets the levels even out, creating a warm but precise sound in which guitar, bass, drums and vocals all come through clearly. The sequencing of the disc in terms of the pacing and tone of the tracks is smartly applied, varying between punk thrashers and longer-form double-bass-drum breakdowns. So there’s a lot here to elevate Black Eye Blues above the pack.
…Except maybe that there’s not really a standout song. Musically, while the group mixes it up as mentioned, and the players keep it tight the whole way through, it doesn’t really sound very different, song by song, from your average hardcore affair. However, I can’t undersell how far the lyrics take this thing – lines will absolutely stick out, which inevitably causes you to pay attention to what else is being said, and then go through replays with a lyric sheet in hand. Those replays start to burn the material into memory, turning what, from afar, may seem somewhat generic, into a disc worth returning to, and the band’s other (scant, alas) releases worth pursuing.