A FEW days ago, I wrote in a review that you can’t keep a good genre down; necessarily, it follows that you can’t keep a great band down. And a great illustration of this would be East London’s The Wolfhounds, back with us once more and poised to release their third long-player since reforming, and seventh overall.
The times weren’t kind to The Wolfhounds back in the day. Lauded initially off the back of their inclusion on that compilation by a certain defunct British inkie, the spotlight shifted just as the band began shifting up through the gears: the gritty lyricism of Bright and Guilty, examining the state of the nation from top to bottom, followed by the haymaker seven-tracker Blown Away – found voices, including Joey Ramone, dub depth and the most exquisite guitar torture this side of anything with Ranaldo/Moore in the credits, it went largely, and grieviously, unheralded. I remember a friend and I crowding around a half-page 30 (!) in an NME of the time – shoved right back by the small ads for mohair jumpers. A belligerent swansong came in the shape of Attitude, then … silence, as the population busied itself with unlaced para boots and Seattle.
The first stirrings of a rebirth came when Bob Stanley asked them to play the ICA for the 30th anniversary of that tape; more gigs followed, and the studio beckoned. Now, the second iteration of the ‘Hounds has been gigging and touring longer than the 1980s’ incarnation.
Coming on the heels of Middle Aged Freaks and Untied Kingdom, Electric Music grabs you by the cojones from the moment you see that shocking yellow and black hazard artwork. Opener and current single “I Can’t See The Light” is a classic Wolfhounds projectile, lobbed over the fence and detonating in your ears; the hookline of this and the following “Like Driftwood”, a glimpse into the everyman, stripped of hope, coherence and security. “Song of the Afghan Shopkeeper (After Ben Judah)” is a lament from a rural immigrant sucked across continents into the great capitalist hub, deracinated, dizzy: “I came all the way here/but I can’t feel happy/I see the buses stop and go five hundred times a day” intones Callahan over a masterful raw raga from Andy Golding, that opens out, teetering just on the edge of atonality. He’s one of the most undervalued guitarists in the country, tearing and spilling notes on the abattoir floor of our century.
You want some proper noise, some dischord, to remember what Sonic Youth and Steve Albini taught you oh, so long ago? Look no further. Title track “Electric Music” has the dirtiest chord shapes, underpinned by filthy fuzz bass and a relentless snare break. “We have the ghost of a chance”, declares Callahan, and you’re in no doubt he’s levelling with you. Dislocated violin samples give another harmonic edge to the strafing you’re receiving.
And … breathe … “Stand Alone” is the best straight-ahead bittersweet boy-girl noisepop nugget I’ve had the pleasure of in such a long time – it’s damn pretty – while the sweet male/female melody of “The Roaches” gives a little light, the roaches in question not needing anything to survive … “just everything you ever made”. You know who he’s referring to. They can – and will – survive a nuclear war. Scritti Politti’s Rhodri Marsden adds bassoon colour. And really, you can draw a line back from Callahan’s lyrical documentation to another London lad, Ray Davies, whose gaze was as pin-sharp and documented both the small and the big ‘P’ political through a multiplicity of ordinary lives, lived extraordinarily.
It would be tempting here to resort to cliche and say this album is full of vital postcards from the edge; were it not that these are actually postcards from dead centre, from the blackened, bruised heart of the UK plc in this goddam year of our Lord.
Electric Music will be released on July 3rd and is available now for pre-order on download, CD and limited vinyl from https://thewolfhounds.bandcamp.com/