Abolitionist always skirted classification for me. Their sound is an amalgam of post-hardcore and just plain old punk rock, but it doesn’t really name check the former in the usual ways. It’s melodic, but not too melodic; there are tunes, but they’re shouty and muted in the way that the emocore coming out of DC was during the Revolution Summer. It wouldn’t be too insane to say they got a sort of garage rock Rites of Spring vibe. Listen to End on End? You hear it? It’s kinda there, right? But, Abolitionist isn’t emo, nor can they really take the -core suffix. When I group them with others in my mind, I’m not putting them with Title Fight, Dowsing, or any other emo revival group; you see, Abolitionist– above and beyond their sound– are a political punk band. I have them firmly in the realm of Propagandhi and the Rebel Spell. Where Propagandhi uses riffs and thrash inspired shred to direct their political and social rage, Abolitionist uses crunchy power chord progressions and bare-bones guitar melodies– different tools, same toolbox.
The Pinnacle is the latest EP from the Portland quartet, four songs that carry the common theme of struggling with the modern world, sometimes tearing down a falsely comforting construct (the ‘tree farms’ in “That’s No Forest, Stupid”) or even a call to arms against our own selves (“Not Alone”). The songs comes together as short blasts of cagey punk energy, paranoid and isolated, simultaneously resigned and focused. Even during the hopefulness on “Not Alone,” where vocalist Dustin Herron calls for us to become aware and supportive of the social contract, there’s frustration coiled between the lines.
It’s this frustration that bleeds into Abolitionist’s sound, which has the same grey and rain as the city they come from. “We Are the Pinnacle” might be one of the catchier songs on The Pinnacle, opening the album with sharp declaratives and a sense of guitar melody that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Hot Water Music album. “Surrounded By Everyone” is almost hypnotic in its repeating riff, represented both by chords and single notes, alluding to and maximizing the paranoia of the lyricism. It’s all simple stuff, minor key and muted, with shout-sung melodies laid over top– but it’s the right decision for the near-apocalyptic resolve in their lyrics.
The Pinnacle is a strong EP with a sound that doesn’t fit neatly anywhere, except within the broad scope of punk rock. Songs like “That’s No Forest, Stupid” cover ideas that aren’t typical topics in the political punk oeuvre, while the EP-ender “Not Alone” pushes against convention and offers not only umbrage, but solutions. The Pinnacle might not be for everyone, and even I could admit that with double the songs, it would run the risk of bleeding together into a droney mess. But, the EP that was delivered is the perfect length, with four short songs coupled with concise messages and a punchy sound. And in punk rock, no matter the subgenre, that’s about all you need.