TNS Records TNS040, 2014, DD, CD & vinyl EP, 17m 15s
£6+ DD £6+ CD £8+ vinyl
This is not music that’s meant to be engaged with as a text. It’s physical music, an onslaught of experience, that invites your participation or your absence. If its material impact has a politics, it’s a politics of action, a politics of fury, of atavistic solidarity and unmediated resistance. It’s music to enable the forging of many wills into one under the sacrament of alcohol; it offers a context where we can, in Public Enemy’s memorable phrase, party for our right to fight. But there is a lot more to Routine and Ritual than guitar noise: this is music with lyrics, and the lyrics are anything but unreflecting. The powerful revolutionary anger that lights this record up like a Molotov cocktail is informed by a precise analytical understanding, and expressed with shocking clarity. That the delivery does not make these verbal meanings easily or immediately available might be taken as indicative of The Domestics’ priorities: political theory gives you something to sing, but the real point, the action, is the singing. For those that want to peel back that layer, however, to either pore over the CD leaflet or listen closely enough to tease out the words (personally I’m extremely bad at making out lyrics at the best of times), there is a whole world of caustic, ideology-shredding intelligence to discover here. For me this music is at its best, and its effect is at its most subversive, when both modes of experience can be encapsulated, the audience sweating, thrashing and shouting without having to forego the understanding that directs its insurrectionary force at the right targets.
Musically this record does not represent a major departure from The Domestics’ established approach. The songs are microcosms, brief, rapid and intense, each bearing as much meaning as a song can carry, at a quarter the length of most. They are crafted in detail, full of well-turned riffs, timbral and textural manipulations, changes of pace and mood… the instrumental texture is always something that can be labelled uncontroversially as hardcore punk, but that implies a set of resources as capable and expressive as in any branch of rock music, and those capacities are exploited to the full, each instrument given space to contribute fully to the music’s impact. They are also, notwithstanding the harsh aggression of James Scott’s vocal delivery, catchy and melodic, leaving a memorable imprint on the listener. Punk has a long history now, and can make no reasonable claim to novelty, but its core values are alive and kicking here: maturity implies no tendency towards the formally abstract or to middle-aged noodling. These fifteen short aural fistings are all perfectly formed pop songs, stripped down to the bone, and packed with explosives.
Lyrically, the songs are directly to the point: they are very clearly directed critiques, not bothering to elaborate any oblique narratives or metaphorical superstructures. This is not to say that they are obvious or unsophisticated: on the contrary, they show a remarkable depth of understanding, and the kind of focussed anger that can only derive from a detailed analysis of the multiple ways in which late capitalism degrades, exploits, dehumanises, standardises, consumes and discards its subjects. The songs on Routine and Ritual range widely over this territory: the toxic effects of consumerism on personal relationships, as symbolised by the Hallmark greetings card (‘Commodify Our Love’); the normative, homogenising assault on culture, thought and feeling that is wrought through state and corporate propaganda (‘Fuck Your War’); the physical, social and emotional cost of wage slavery (‘Chest Pains’); the literal and metaphorical use of medication to moderate the ‘externalised’ social costs of capitalism (‘Pills’). I could go on.
The record is insightful and incite-ful in direct proportion, then: aurally it may say ‘riot’, but a lot of music does the same, and it can be hard to distinguish the revolutionary from the reactionary, or the communitarian from the populist, on purely musical terms (hence the far-right’s liking for punk-styled music). But there are aspects of the sound of Routine and Ritual that enact its principles clearly, a sense of unity that is devoid of hierarchy, with specialisations distinguished on purely functional grounds – there is never any sense that the lead guitar licks are any more than seasoning for the main meal, for example, or that the privileged position of the vocals in the mix makes them any more than a contribution to the ensemble. The group sound is tight, and that has something to do with the considerable musicianship that’s in play, but it is also evidently a function of the band’s core creative values. In the organised, precisely unified cyclicities of their riffs and rhythms they hold up a distorting mirror to the enervating daily procedures which the lyrics critique so effectively. Routine and Ritual is aptly named, contrasting and comparing as it does two competing modes of social repetition: while the lyrics tersely outline the former, the vocal delivery and the raging torrent of music enact the latter, requiring no explanation. Thinking about this record brings me as close as I’ve come to understanding Jacques Attali’s strange assertion in Noise: The Political Economy of Music that ‘music is ritual murder’ (my italics); in these songs can be heard the symbolic destruction of the coercive structures against which their lyrical texts are directed. As I said at the outset, this is not here for you to ‘read’ its meanings: in fact, it’s not here for you at all. It’s an invitation, to set ‘you’ aside, and forge yourself into a part of its ritual, to bind yourself to your fellows, not under the false discipline of fascism, but in the solidarity of free human beings.