Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Soulforce Revolution - 7 Seconds

Ever since Michael Azerad's wonderful book, Our Band Could Be Your Life changed my listening habits and opened my ears to the history of independent rock and American hardcore punk, I've paid attention to how these bands, the hardcore acts especially, changed their sound as time went on. Most of these acts were short lived but so incredibly intense that they packed more changes, turbulence and development into a few short years than many bands fit into decades. Black Flag slowed down to a darkly sludgy pace on their later records after changing drummers and singers as many times as they changed pants, whilst Husker Du went from the kings of short, lightning quick hardcore to almost single-handedly inventing indie rock. It seems for a lot of hardcore bands, playing that particular style of music loses its appeal after a while and they move on to embrace other, less abrasive genres.

7 seconds are one of these bands. However they can't be categorised as short lived by any means. They are in fact one of the longest surviving bands in the history of the genre. Having been founded in 1980 the band has been around in various incarnations and has consistently released records, for the last 30 years. They were part of the Youth Crew movement, which focused on unity and community rather than straight edge living or the radical politics of a lot of hardcore. They were a straight ahead hardcore band and one of the first that openly embraced the label. As time went on however, they changed and became more indie rock focused. The change didn’t happen overnight however. With their first EP appearing in 1982 and the new more melodic sound starting to appear on 1986's New Wind. By the time 1989 rolled around the band were releasing their second LP on iconic indie label Restless, Soulforce Revolution. It’s by no means their most loved record as it came during a time of stylaistic change whilst the band was still trying to find its footing. But it makes for a rather interesting listen.
It's easy to stick all of the more melodic, indie styled hardcore bands under one big umbrella marked “Husker Du influenced” but that seems more than a little unfair. There are some stylistic influences here such as the use of a chorus effect on the guitar sound giving it the depth of tone that Bob Mould was known for. In fact, the sound of the guitars on this record is by far and away the most obvious Husker influence on the band. It sounds so much like later day Husker Du recordings that even the most ardent fan would struggle to hear the difference. Despite being an obvious homage, the sound works with the songs. The fizzing, rough edged guitars serve to disturb some of the smoother edges of the record which, if left unsupervised do sometimes threaten to spill over into mainstream rock territory. Comparing this record to the early recordings from the band, it’s really quite a massive departure in terms of style but it’s one that the band reached over a period of time.

Strangely enough the stand out song is one that veers harder in the direction of the softer approach than some of the other songs. Mother’s Day starts off with watery chorus effects and harmonies and it’s not until the chorus that there is any hint of distortion. The melody is incredibly catchy and gets hooked into your brain very easily but it’s the verse rather than the chorus that is the real hook. The song’s subject matter is a departure from standard punk rhetoric, even for a band as positive as 7 seconds. This four minutes and fifteen seconds (the longest song on the album) is put aside to thank frontman Kevin Seconds and bass player Steve Youth’s mother (the two are brothers). While it’s a nice thing to do and I’m sure their mother appreciated it, it seems a somewhat strange topic to include on a punk album. The band seem to have realised this and followed the track with a much faster, hard hitting song titled Tribute Freedom Landscape, returning to more comfortable ground.
There are elements here from other bands making waves in punk around that time as well. D.C band Bad Brains’ brand of metal and reggae influenced punk can be heard in the verses of Busy Little People. With the guitar style being rather reminiscent of that Bad Brains 1986 album I against I. However Kevin Seconds vocal delivery owes a lot more to early Bono than he does Brains singer H.R. Whilst not possessing as strong a pair of lungs as Bono, Seconds has some similar tendencies when it comes to the tone of his voice and his phrasing. I Can Sympathize particularly sounds a lot what I imagine U2 to have sounded like if they had Bob Mould as a guitarist. Regardless of the fact that I really don’t like the afore mentioned 80’s pop-rock band I find Seconds’ voice to be rather suited to the material. It’s strained at places giving away the effort he puts into his performance but also his limited technical ability. But this is punk rock and technical ability is much lower on the list of requirements than passion and belief. Tracks with this style of vocal delivery and some of harder hitting guitar parts on the album could almost be seen as a stylistic link to the then emerging Grunge scene.

Soulforce Revolution is a really good example of a Hardcore Punk band maturing into a really good indie rock band whilst keeping the same emotions and ethics that made them a vital part of the movement. Even if they borrow stylistic elements from other bands 7 Seconds manage to create something that sounds wholly their own. For a genre that relied so heavily on its stringent codes of conduct and the social rules which various factions had to comply by, so many hardcore bands adjusted wonderfully to new styles of music. 7 seconds have earned their place in the history books with innovators of hardcore and independent rock such as Fugazi and Husker Du and this album captures them exploring the new territory they ventured into with gusto.

Seeing as I can’t find any decent youtube videos of any songs off the album…. here is a link to album on Spotify 7 Seconds – Soulforce Revolution

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