I’m not sure if I like the Rebel Spell’s Last Run. It hits me in a place that is so rare and specific that it only highlights how rarely I get hit. I’ll dispense with the fuckery as soon as possible, because the questions that the Last Run brought up deserve an examination. It’s a Beautiful Future was something of a sleeper hit with many, and those who loved the first album will be surely excited for the latest. But for me, it brings me to a place I love and loathe in equal measures.
Last Run is perfectly executed. I’ll get that out of the way immediately. Musically, it’s a loud and brash behemoth that reminds me a little bit of Morning Glory’s bombast in Poets Were My Heroes. But the anchor is dropped in the tight ferocity of skate punk. The first track, “Hopeless,” wears its influences on its sleeve with chugged power chords and a big chorus. “Breathe” introduces a more metallic side to the band, featuring an extended guitar solo that perhaps hints at their greatest influence, fellow Canadians Propagandhi. The title track is the first hint of their grander musical tendencies, and when the rock instruments fade out halfway through and all that’s left is melancholy piano notes and the howls of “Blame me! Blame me! Blame Me!,” it becomes quickly apparent that this is a band equipped to transcend.
“The Tsilhqot’in War” is the masterpiece on the album, a sprawling, epic song that opens with Jo Yeong-wook-esque strings. Its difficult to sustain a five minute punk song, but here the Rebel Spell do it with ease– transforming their passion into an audience’s rapt attention. Throughout Last Run, they have a firm hand on both music and lyrics, executing each one impressively.
I won’t bury the lead: I hate political punk. It reeks of attentive masturbation and holier-than-thou posturing that preaches directly to the choir and little else. I think back to the earliest punk rockers, these willfully nihilistic dinosaurs of another time and place; they were certainly political, but it was mostly discourse grounded in the real world. They were tearing down the barriers between musician and audience, and one of the ways they were doing it was through the issues of the time. They sang about the downtrodden, for the downtrodden– it was all blue collar anthems for the freaks on the outskirts by the freaks on the outskirts, and everyone bought in because the gap was closing. With the Rebel Spell, I only feel like they’re widening the gap.
Bare with me, this may be a little out-of-bounds for a review, but I’m going to bring in a quote from the Rebel Spell’s Facebook in the interest of painting a fuller picture of this band and their stances:
“We don’t like things all that much and we tend to think for ourselves. Food, shelter, warm clothes, community, friendship, travel, love, hate, you know life.”
That’s right. They don’t like ‘things.’ The road to punk rock nirvana is a road paved with much treachery and deceit, but the Rebel Spell have risen above it all. They’re levitating somewhere by a bird’s nest, viceless wonders wondering how all these mere mortals can live with themselves, living their lives of consumption and little less. The gap widens.
I’m not a paragon of punk virtue. I have a cell phone. I pay Comcast for my internet. I bought Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” single. But nonetheless I believe in DIY art and the complete unfettered pursuit thereof. Punk rock is a place for the bellows of the downtrodden to be heard and felt, but for me, Last Run just sounds like a checklist of punk rock talking points being checked by a band so far removed from modern human experience it feels like the far left version of telling a homeless guy to “just get a job.”
It’s all here. Racism is bad. Religion is bad. The environment needs protecting. Sexism is bad. White people mistreated Native Americans. Cops are criminals, man! But the one that irks me the most is the Luddite streak that runs through “Breathe.” It comes off as a thoughtless target when so many of us use technology as a means to communicate and learn. We all get annoyed when we’re talking to someone and their nose is in their phone, or when the kid with headphones jumps into the middle of the street like Dr. Dre personally told him to, but I guess it all comes off as too black and white. I always go back to Videodrome on this, David Cronenberg’s 1983 film that handles the growing prevalence of technology in our lives with surprising prescience. The film depicts the merging of man and machine and reality with television, and the general takeaway is that technology is just another step in our evolution. It’s scary because it’s new, but who’s to say which of the before or after is better? The easy thing to say is “let’s regress back to what we know.” But the challenging thing is to admit that the things you loathe are just things (as the Rebel Spell are happy to not be into), and there is no perfect or natural state. Humanity is fluid. Long live the new flesh, baby.
I’d like to think that we’ve moved beyond the usual punk topics. Why not write a song about the dissonance some of us feel between enjoying our consumerist culture while we vehemently trash it in our art? Why not write a song about balancing your belief in feminism with your everyday objectification? Are the Rebel Spell so far across the gap they’ve never found joy in modern vices or the perfect shape of a twenty-something’s ass? They might be, but I’m not. I partake in grey areas of morality all day and all night, because I’m not perfect and it’s not something I want to strive for. The disconnect here might not be from artist to audience, but from person to person.
But, the other take on it is this: Last Run is exactly what we need in punk rock. Maybe the Rebel Spell is right, and I’m sucking on the teats of the corporations and I need to protest a pipeline and live amongst bears right-fucking-now. Maybe the basics are being pounded out again and again because they happen to be important, and they happen to be outsider issues worth discussion. Maybe the rest of us, living in the system don’t get it and this is the benevolent aural hand to slap us in the face and yell: “wake the fuck up!” And it very well could be just another political punk jerk-off session. If it is, I hope they came. But, I’m left with the very real sense that Last Run is a work of art. It’s certainly confrontational, but it interacted with me in a way that a lot of music just doesn’t. There’s give and take here. It made me think– reconsider what is important to me and inspires me to discuss and write a review that is too long for anyone’s good. And all of that is worth a lot more than just finding something to agree with.
5/5 Stars – Give the album a listen below.
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