While I happily admit that I appreciate the 7” single format, a split 7” is often a much harder sell with me. Why? Often, the focus feels too diverted on a split; the amount of time that each band involved has to leave an impression is very short and splitting focus two ways only makes it that much more difficult. Even so though, there are occasions when the bands included on a split release prove to have complementary sounds , and the release overcomes adversity. The Pick Your Poison EP released by Control and Harrington Saints is like that. Both are punk bands, but both are very DIFFERENT punks bands in almost every way – from where they call home to the sounds they’re making – and the combination works really well.
On the A-side is Control – a ragged, rough and ready street punk band. The side begins with “Helltown” and really sets a tone. Sounding at first like the side might be skipping a bit as the drums ramble along for a few bars (it turns out to not be a skip – the sound is just a product of drummer Paul Mileman’s style), listeners will feel their adrenaline levels begin to rise as each band member enters the mix, culminating with singer Iain Kilgallon growling out a set of potent but only partially intelligible calls to arms in his finest Crawley hubris to kick it up a notch and they’re off.
For the next two and a half minutes Control lords firmly over all they survey with a noxious mix of punk, militant swagger and streetwise apathy that is impossible to ignore. Images of hard times and harder fought victories get presented to listeners and then just shrugged off because, to quote Kilgallon himself, “What can you do?” The unspoken answer to that question, of course, is “start a riot” – and Control sets to doing just that after the sirens sound to open “The Morning After The Riot Before.”
Now, the beauty of “The Morning After The Riot Before” only begins with the fact that the lyrics of “Helltown” bridge into it and so don’t make listeners pick up another thread after the first song on this A-side ends. Rather, “The Morning After The Riot Before” just aims to keep the fire started by “Helltown” burning at a hellacious temperature. Guitarist Ryan Smyth and bassist Glen Johnson both speed their way through a skate-punk pattern and break-neck rhythm, while Kilgallon assaults listeners acerbically with a bark of, “It’s the morning after the riot before/ It’s the morning after and they just want more.”
There’s nothing complicated about it and it’s about as subtle as a strike from a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat, and that’s part of the appeal: this music is about as easy to deny as being hit with a barbed wire-wrapped bat.
On the B-side, Harrington Saints take a decidedly different tack. Right off, “This Is Not A Country” attempts to sum up a political position in a two-minute punk song – unlikely, but they end up pulling it off marvelously. Lines like “Let’s stop this madness, This patriotic nonsense/ And telling ourselves how great we are/ We send kids off to war, don’t care what they’re fighting for/ Cause we’re all blinded by the dollar signs” and “Let’s stop believing in fairytales of the past/ Times weren’t better and now we have a protected class/ Dead men hanging from trees is now systematic poverty/ This inhumanity just cant stand!” aim at getting listeners to see through a rose-colored view of history and the escapist futility in wrapping oneself in donkey blue or elephant red when the world has greater problems that the United States might not be in a position to address anymore.
Here, the Saints recognize the inconvenient truth that the American Century has ended and, in order to keep playing the political game, the U.S. may need to join the rest of the world in initiatives instead of trying to lead it. In this particular case, the lyrics drop bombs, but the music which accompanies it is the napalm which fries listeners crisp. Here, guitarists Mike C. and Jayson Shepherd, bassist Mike Miller (who also had a hand in writing the lyrics) and drummer Forrest Maestretti just blaze through unrelentingly. They do not pause, they do not relent and the song just skids like a car on black ice for a breathtaking two minutes and six seconds. In the end, listeners will pat themselves down to make sure everything’s still in the places it should be and take the pause that the band did not afford them.
But then “Four Walls” picks up and knocks them off their feet again with a claustrophobic attack under two minutes long. After that, forget winded – listeners will find they’re perfectly drained after trying to keep up with Harrington Saints for less than five minutes.
All that said, taking both sides combined, there’s no question that Pick Your Poison represents a rare bird for this critic: it’s a satisfying split release. Here, the two sides combined represent a full offering in that they showcase the personalities of two different bands, but they also work very, very well together to ensure that those listening feel as though they’ve gotten what they need and may be inspired to find more of each band’s music.
(Randale/Pirates Press/Longshot Music)