Street Sects — The Kicking Mule
Is Street Sects the best band in the world right now? Only reason, objectivity, the Scientific Method, and citations can tell us.
Or we could use a cartoon instead.
1. You’ve just bought Street Sects’ sophomore album, The Kicking Mule. Your excitement is palpable. Will this new opus harken back to the chaotic industrial aggression of the debut, End Position, listening to which was akin to having your face buffed out with a belt-sander while a stray dog pissed on your heart? Or will it revive the smooth, sugary, synth-beggoten depression of the Things Will Be Better In Hell EP? Maybe it will expand upon the brief, hammering spasms of the split with Curse or the split with portrayal of guilt? You cannot wait to find out, and your face betrays your can’t-wait-ment.
2. As soon as “269 Soul Mates” hits, you get chills. The horripilation on the back of your arms is considerable. Shaun Ringsmuth’s unmistakable noise-infused and snare-heavy programming brings you back to better days, or in any case to vaguely less excruciating days before you got laid off, your wife took the kids and left you, you lost visitation rights, etc., etc. And then the improved confidence and clarity of Leo Ashline’s bitter-yet-beautiful voice (so moving, so full of pathos) remind you that you cannot do this without first cracking a beer.
3. The beer feels good. The record sounds fantastic. The production is clear and tight, the songs concise and orderly. The harsh and erratic twists and turns of End Position have been tempered by the melodious Rat Jacket and then married to the immediacy of the aforementioned splits. If “Chasing the Vig” weren’t a song about a corrupt cop escaping death and punishment by law, those plinking synths would be uplifting. You kind of want to dance. But just as you reach track 4, “Suicide by Cop” (subject matter self-explanatory), a strange mist emerges from your bottle of beer. Is it a Djinn? No — it is a Cognitive Distortion Demon. What does it want from you?
4. As the unbearably relatable lyrics to “Everyone’s at Home Eventually” run down your spine (a sarcastic title given the subject matter: a life hobbled perhaps permanently by addiction and the alienation of recovery), the demon speaks.
5. You hit repeat on “Everyone’s at Home Eventually” twice because the pulse-quickening percussion and arrestingly naked vocals get stuck in your throat, and there is no other way to get them out. By the end of your third listen, the Cognitive Distortion Demon has dematerialized and a gun has appeared in your hand. What does it want from you?
6. Amidst the sleazy burlesque swagger of “Dial Down the Neon” — perhaps the greatest departure from the core Street Sects sound yet — the gun speaks:
7. Another voice distracts you, issuing from your fourth or fifth (or ninth?) bottle of beer:
8. You emerge from a confused daze to the final lyrical stanza of “In for a World of Hurt”.
“Stop reaching out. Lie back down. Don’t get up.”
Your brow furrows with trepidation; tears stream away from your weary eyes. In your mind’s eye, you can see what cold, hard logic wants you to do next.
9. You drop to your knees as the album’s first exceedingly violent track begins: “Still Between Lovers.” So harsh, so unforgiving, boiling over with the screams of the damned: not unlike your life. You know what you must do now.
10. But you are such a drunken fuck-up that you can’t even pull off a simple exit strategy. As the hit-single-worthy “The Drifter” evokes the sour industrial rock of early NIN and . . . uh . . . Razed in Black?, you slump to the floor and commence soiling yourself. The Kicking Mule starts over at the beginning. Your consciousness and human potential dissolve — but not before you catch stray echoes of the closing message in “269 Soulmates”:
Now there’s no one to blame
There’s no need to make
There’s no one left
11. And the worst part is that it’s only Monday.
The Kicking Mule deserves more than some dumb cartoon to make light of its dead-serious darkness. But sometimes the only way to deal with that level of darkness is to try to twist it into something lighter. The album’s subject matter — from homelessness to abuse to crime & punishment — is painful and yet somehow cathartic. Ashline’s vocals may have softened from misanthropic expectorations to masterful melodies but his lyrics still doggedly scavenge around in the gutter. Meanwhile, Ringsmuth’s orchestration has found a pitch-perfect balance between industrial’s cacophony, punk’s economy, and synth-pop’s earworm motifs. All in all, The Kicking Mule has contracted the A-word (accessibility –gulp!). This is the perfect place for strangers of the band to jump in. It is also the sound of Street Sects firing on all cylinders. Not that they weren’t already firing on all cylinders; rather, they’ve since found more cylinders lying around.
The Kicking Mule comes out October 26th on The Flenser in CD, vinyl and digital formats.