A Hardcore Wake-Up Call

From the arresting cover art to the merciless beat of the title track, Failed States nails it down: this is the album of 2012, the only album that is of today. And is it really any surprise? The Winnipeg thrash veterans have only been one-upping themselves since they first broke out.

Propagandhi are like returning Crusaders; the long absence since 2009’s Supporting Caste is quickly forgotten and forgiven within the opening one-two punch of “Note to Self” and the title track. No other rock or punk moment in 2012 chips the teeth quite like these numbers. Prop is a rare example of a band that, hyperbole aside, simply gets better with each passing album. Everything from the musicianship to the lyrics is that much tighter on Failed. And nothing is scarified to make this an astonishingly loud and hard album.

Failed States is a statement album of the highest order. And no other band today is mixing political insight into so combustive a sound as Prop. But in awareness of audience expectations, Failed States is near classic hardcore. The 12 songs on Failed States clock in just under 40 minutes, (15 songs at 42 minutes in the “deluxe edition”), which is just perfect for an album of this nature.

Songs like “Dark Matters” are nuanced; others like “Status Update” are precision-guided attacks. The balance between the shorter blasts of punk spuzz and the four-minute torrents of wrath is perfectly achieved. By the time “Duplicate Keys Icaro (An Interim Report)” closes the album, it’s as though everything has come and gone in one lone beat of the heart.

The unforgiving rhythm section of Jordy-Boy and The Rod lays the bedrock for an album that is all mass: There is 0% body fat on this album. Just listen to the clean, precise evisceration of Beaver’s manic guitar work on the aptly named “Hadron Collision”. Guitarist and vocalist Jesus H. Chris continues his upward strides as one of punk’s greatest vocalists ever. (By my count he is slightly ahead of Ian MacKaye but miles behind H.R. of Bad Brains). And though the band can be polarizing for wearing their rebel politics up and down their sleeves, there is no denying that as a musical unit, they remain one of the premier examples of hardcore. Two songs available only on the deluxe edition exemplify this best: “The Fucking Rich Fuck the Poor” is the global sweep of the Occupy movement’s fury in 80 blistering seconds. “The Day you Hate Yourself” is a breathless onslaught that completely forgoes subtlety for breakneck fury.

(The deluxe version also includes a second version of Failed States that, while not wildly different from the other, has the skull-kicking intensity you want in a proper album closer.)

But it isn’t just in musical terms that Prop is influencing things today. The case of Pussy Riot in Russia has not gone unnoticed by the band. The commonalities between Prop and Pussy Riot are obvious: punk and politics. The differences couldn’t be more dramatic: Putin. Prop exists in a culture that allows, even if its tolerance is not widely spread, the freedom for punk to coexist with human rights. However, the relationship is not universal. Failed States, like the persecution of Pussy Riot, is a reminder that freedoms are often couched in the vagaries of political culture.

And while we rejoice at the return of Prop and scuttle our senses to their heavy riffs, we do so in a fragile state where all is not granted or assured. If Prop serves one function it is to remind us that not all rights are universal, not all freedoms are shared and not all trials are just. Failed States is a rallying call for a culture that has become increasingly self-involved. We are losing our connection to the global sense of the word community for a dependence on real-time “social” interaction. Facebook IPO conspiracies, Clint Eastwood’s interview with an invisible President Obama and the price tag on the new iPhone are not the real issues of our time. Failed States is modern day political rhetoric set to a galvanizing punk stomp. Far from hectoring, the band is simply following the steps of people like Pete Seeger and Chuck D and speaking the truth in bold letters.