Fortuity, spontaneity, and intuition might not be your conventional attributes used to portray the causational origin behind a significant new supergroup, let alone in nowadays’ hypernormalized times—yet as far as recent Epitaph Records-signees Fake Names are concerned, those might just be the utmost apt ones. The American-Swedish quartet is composed of gargantuan Washington D.C. punk rock mainstays Brian Baker (of Minor Threat and Bad Religion fame) and Michael Hampton (S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish), who linked up in 2016 initially simply to jam and mess around with one another, without any thought furthering anything more than that. However, after they swiftly realised that their songwriting process and output yield was appearing to be flowing way more smoothly than expected, they landed on the temptation of putting an actual outfit together. So that’s how they figured they’d call up radical Johnny Temple from Girls Against Boys and Soulside, whom they knew from elementary school, and by their own admission seamlessly fit right in with their passion for what the bassist refers to as “loud, angry, visceral music”. One practice and writing session led to another, and by the end of the year the new formed punk Mount Rushmore enlisted iconic Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzén on rage-fuelled vocal duties, thanks to a serendipitous run-in at the same year’s Riot Fest edition in Chicago.
After a socially-distanced record crafting gestation lasting several years, before social-distancing became trendy and en vogue, the foursome saw fit to drop their self-titled debut LP Fake Names on 8th May—their alias doubling as a nod to both 1987 American crime comedy picture Raising Arizona and the relentless proliferation of false news items and statements, equal courtesy of both FAANG and Donald Trump. Allegedly recorded analogue and directly to tape in New York, and enjoying a little help from their friends Geoff Sanoff (A Perfect Circle, Jawbox) on production and Matt Schulz on drums and percussions performances, Fake Names is a straight-as-an-arrow, concise, and cohesive collection of ten meat-and-potatoes numbers clocking in just shy of half an hour. The album and ancillary band announcement were previewed with the insurrectionary blistering sing-along anthem “Brick“, unveiled to the whole wide world at the end of March in the heat of a full C-19 pandemic mode. The galloping and unnerved stunner barely reaches two minutes of runtime, yet manages to pack in it voracious lyrical content (“Took down the names of everyone in my little red book / Here comes revenge for everything that you ever took / Shots heard all around the world yeah you’re gonna bleed / Ever seen the face of revolution? It looks like me“), fiery distorted guitar play, and an exhilaratingly catchy refrain.
This project’s lead single acquires an even heightened sense of purpose when taken in context with the full track listing, sequenced as it is at number four between album highlight “Being Them“—a superior slice of garage rock-meets-power pop where Lyxzén proves just how he hasn’t skipped a beat when it comes to penning infectious hooks since his early Refused days—and the pensive, reflective tormented croonerisms of “Darkest Days” (“Here we storm into the darkest times / Stole our souls then they drained our minds / An epidemic of stupidity / Let us here left us all to bleed“). Other distilled examples of tracks furthering the self-proclaimed and actively sought-after objective of producing and recording straight to tape, without the help of guitar pedals or any manipulated sound effects (Fake Names go as far as making sure every song on the LP is credited as having “No synthesizers”), are groovy and visceral album opener “All For Sale” as well as its correlated ostracised hymn for the disenfranchised “Heavy Feather“, belonging at number six to the crop of songs on the shorter end of the runtime spectrum.
While both Baker and Hampton provide luscious and compelling backing vocal harmonies to Lyxzén’s biting and soar laments pretty much throughout this whole thing—incidentally lending that poppier flair that so strongly trademarked their previous pivotal scene bands in spite of their abrasive hardcore wrapping—two understated standouts portraying such functional texturing are both “Driver” at number two on the tracklist and the badass “Weight“. The latter so wonderfully underlines the overbearing six-strings chemistry between the two punk legends. In fact, the undeniable magic spellbound by Baker and Hampton and their instrumental dialectic in the studio had the group very aware they were in the midst of witnessing something nothing short of historical—sitting on the decades of influential dues paid by the two guitarists in the American hardcore punk scene. So bassist Temple on this fellow bandmates’ collaboration: “It’s two lead guitar players who really know how to work together, with such an incredibly fluid meshing of their individual styles, and there’s never a moment where they’re competing over who’s playing the catchiest riff. I’ve never seen a hint of anything like that before”.
For better or worse, Fake Names’ conscious decision to refrain from any audio-enhancing techniques employment in delivering their no-frills true blue punk rock directness and pathos does show through in multiple occasions on the full length, at times rendering the overall mix a tad too thin and bare bone for its own good. This can be experienced on the nonetheless adult alternative radio-friendly penultimate cut “This Is Nothing“, doubtlessly one of the lulls on this thing alongside formulaic frenetic LP closer “Lost Cause“, showcasing some of Lyxzén’s most uninspired and underwhelming pen game in recent memory: “Some kind / Some kind of violence / Something sacred something pure / Some kind / Some kind of wonder / Everything we’ve waited for / Hold on / Gotta hold on to this lost cause“. At the same time, it’s not like this back-to-basics sonic mantra is anything new for punk rock, and while the broader heavier music canon struggles to desperately try to re-invent itself via foreign electronic sounds and aimless genre crossovers amidst a wrenching existential crisis that displaced it afar from influential mainstream conversations, to much of critics’ dismay, Fake Names rely on elevating the inherent importance of each tape-tracked instrument, demanding listeners to pay a little bit closer attention to the final master. Not a bad trick for someone conveying not-so-disguised leftist prophecies and anti-capitalist sermons set to enthralling distortion.
It’s exactly this matter-of-factly demeanour and the singular way this music carries itself throughout its 28 minutes that make Lyxzén and co stand out, not only when compared to the overboard and exaggerated fringes of alternative music acts hopelessly engaging in loudness wars today, but also when placed shoulder-to-shoulder with their insular punk rock genre contemporaries. To this end, the Swedish frontman is not shy in highlighting the complete absence of spin doctoring that has driven the band since their inception in 2016: “A lot of times with bands there’s an agenda, and people often have very different ideas on what you need to do to succeed. But with this band there’s no agenda at all: it’s a project completely driven by lust for the music, and the simple fact that we just truly love playing together”. Raging against late stage-capitalism and diminishing returns has never sounded so catchy.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
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