Ok, so Hang is four years old at the time of writing this but considering there was a nine year gap between this and Lagwangon’s last full length offering I think I can cut myself some slack. I started listening to these guys around the release of Hoss in 1996 and was a pretty avid fan through to Lets Talk About Feelings which came out in 1998. Those two releases (and Double Plaidinum which came between them) leaned more heavily on the melodic side of the melodic hardcore genre, with nods to their heavier, more metal infused first two albums. The band then went quiet for five years while members pursued other musical endeavors, singer Joey Cape’s new band (Bad Astronaut) taking an even poppier direction. With 2003’s Blaze, the band’s metal sound from their debut and sophomore releases (Duh 1992 and Trashed 1994) was more prevalent and the record failed to make much of an impression on me. In the intervening 15 years (fuuuuuuuck) Lets Talk About Feelings has been my go to record from Lagwagon. From that opening chugging riff on After You My Friend to the bittersweet melancholy on penultimate stormer May 16 the album is pretty much perfect all the way through.
Fast forward to 2018 and in preparation for the upcoming Menzingers / Lagwagon / Lawrence Arms show in London in August (not to mention Bad Cop Bad Cop and The Lillingtons) I’m filling in the blanks in my Lagwagon education. Resolve (2005) was written in the aftermath of the suicide of their friend and former drummer Derrick Plouride and lyrically is, understandably, influenced by that tragic event. Musically the album is a mix of melodic and heavier songs and it’s actually a really great addition to their catalogue which is quickly integrating itself into my current playlist.
Which brings me to their most recent, albeit now four year old, offering – Hang. It opens with Burden of Proof, a one-minute Joey Cape acoustic number which sees the first reference to the album’s title (“I see you hanging by your noose. Delivered, divine excuse”) of which there are several more throughout the album. As this subdued number fades out, second track Reign kicks in at breakneck speed, Cape’s vocals switching from mellow and melancholic to aggressive and angry and Lagwagon are back in style. There’s a really cool call back to a lyric in the opener (“It’s a sonnet. There’s no way to put a ribbon on it”) and the aforementioned “hanging man” so if you weren’t following the song titles you could assume the two openers were actually just one song. It’s an absolute belter and I’d love to see them open a set with these two songs back to back. I think the crowd would verily loose their shit! Made of Broken Parts starts with a super metal riff and chugs along nicely with a breakdown in the middle before further nods to the album title (“We can’t hang so we must hang. Can’t hang on so we disconnect”). Following song Cog in the Machine continues the more metallic bent and lyrical theme (machines, parts etc) and keeps the album flowing nicely. Poison in the Well is less overtly metal influenced, although does have a meandering guitar solo in the middle before returning to it’s previous fast pace. Obsolete Absolute starts with the sounds of typewriter before a rumbling bass line leads us into several minutes of an enjoyable rocking instrumental which is then joined by a spoken word narration of things which are becoming obsolete. Around two and half minutes in, the drum tempo increases and a pick slide delineates a shift in the song. Cape’s urgent vocals combine with fast tempo guitar work and it quickly turns into one of the stand out tracks on the album. We hear more about our friend “swinging…on the tree” and the spoken word narration returns to great effect, it really is an exceptional six minutes of music. Western Settlements starts with a relatively pedestrian but enjoyable chugging riff and beat before the drums and bass strip away to leave the guitar to accompany Joey Cape’s sombre vocal which comes in (“A hell of a thing. Hanging a man. Taking everything he has. And all he’ll ever have”). Then the rest of the band kick in again and we’ve got another belter on our hands. Burning Out in Style, opens with a bright vocal over a pulsing guitar and we get one of the most melodic tracks on the release. It’s a fucking corker too, exposing the mundanity and emptiness that lies beneath the shiny façade that some people portray themselves with. One More Song starts with a piano intro underneath a gentle vocal from Joey and is a poignant tribute to the much loved and sadly missed Tony Sly. It references a song Joey heard Tony working on the week before he died which becomes a metaphor for wishing he was still with us. It’s another slice of pure melodic perfection and a fitting tribute to the great man. Following song, Drag, is a reworking of one of Cape’s acoustic numbers, discussing his addiction to nicotine. It’s a little heavier than the previous two tracks without returning to the more metal sound from earlier in the album. You Know Me continues in the same musical vein, a mid tempo rocker which discusses how disconnected we are from each other despite the devices we now have that in theory could bring us closer together. Album closer In Your Wake is a bit of a blend of all the musical styles and themes from the album. It rocks along nicely then builds to a climax, only to slow down to a super poppy repeated refrain (“Inside your head”) over acoustic guitar and a slower drum beat which then itself builds, the full band kick in and we’re told “Your next to hang” over some breakneck speed classic ‘Wagon.
So there we have it, nine years in the making and four more before I actually listened to the damn thing and it’s pretty fucking special, I wish I’d pulled my finger out earlier. It has an urgency and freshness whilst still unmistakably being a Lagwagon album which should please diehard fans and win over new ones. Roll on August!