DocumentDecember 1, 2017
When eastern Michigan ska-punk legends The Vulnerable called it quits shortly after releasing their album last year, it left a void in my heart. You know that feeling. One of the more important bands in the recent years of my life was suddenly gone. They’d taught me so much about empathy and solidarity in their short time that losing them felt akin to losing a close friend. In mourning, I must have wept to their tape a hundred times. A few short months later birthed rumblings about new projects featuring members of one of my favorite now defunct bands. Enter Solitary Subversion. There was no more time to dwell in the past; now, I was looking forward to hearing what was next.
After establishing a lineup, Solitary Subversion began developing a unique style of progressive hardcore-punk. The majority of this year they’ve been hunkered down writing songs and teasing a release by posting memes on their social media pages only popping out to play a few scattered shows across the state.
In May, they released a single called “Almost” on A Hella Skitchin’ Compilation Volume 1. The first taste of their music couldn’t have been more different than I expected, but it was good. It was bold and it was heavy. On December 1st, the band released their first official EP, appropriately titled, Document. Evidently meant to showcase how they’ve grown together over the course of the year, it also sees them entirely shedding their ska roots.
Document opens with “Troll”, which sets the tone for the whole project. The melodic group vocals contrast perfectly with the harsh shouted leads. Lyrics about purity posing and the inability to look inward (“never retrace bloody footsteps”) are complemented by Dan’s crunchy guitar parts. “Joker,” the second single, can also be characterized by contrast both in the music and lyrics. It opens with an intricate and noodly guitar passage and the narrator feeling the urge to bury their head under the weight of the current anxious political climate. By the end of the track, the guitars and screamed vocals are just beating on the listeners’ brains commanding them to never surrender.
Turning negative thoughts of oneself back onto the person or thing that initiated those thoughts is a theme that carries over to “Almost.” It starts with the narrator experiencing body dysmorphia after having their identity questioned by someone that doesn’t care to empathize. By the end, Kendall is emphatically demanding that “the truth is out there/ you’re just fucking scared” – a reclamation of their wholeness.
“Choreographer” is by far the heaviest song on the EP. It boasts as many chuggy ugly chords as a late-90s metalcore band like Zao. Honestly, I love that stuff, so this was a pleasant surprise. The line “in these trees there are ticks/ in this world there are sides to pick” seems to illustrate the infighting between allied groups while there are bigger problems on which we should be more focused.
Drummer Alec gets a killer solo moment at the beginning of “Pest.” Once the rest of the band comes in, there’s a relaxing trance-like vibe to the riffs which I thought was an interesting pairing with the lyrical hints at corrupt religious and influential leaders. My favorite track, “Alignment,” closes everything out with maybe the most introspective moments on the record. As the music flows, the words of the chorus (“not a fracture, not broken, not splintered into fragments”) seem to float in the space that’s left between the starts and stops of the guitar. The minute-plus Pink Floyd inspired outro is mostly dominated by shimmery instrumentals, but there’s a dreamy voice echoing “we will all melt the same” over the top of it that leaves you feeling warm.
Solitary Subversion claims bands like Propagandhi, At The Drive In, and La Dispute as influences and it shows. Weird time signatures, sing-shouted cryptic vocals, and a fully exploited guitar neck always make for an interesting combination and this project is no exception. Along with Rick Johnson, producer at Cold War Studios, they’ve managed to make this tried-and-true genre feel fresh through expert but loose musicianship.
The lyrics explore a wide range of heavy themes but they always come back to self. I have a lot of respect for that. From the outside looking in, this EP signifies growth. Because of this, it feels like the mourning cycle for The Vulnerable is well past complete. This is where we are now and it’s good because this is where their hearts are focused. Consider this the last time I’ll ever mention that band when discussing this one. It’s time to move on. They all deserve to be out of that shadow. And I’m excited for them. I can’t recommend Document enough.