The funny thing about punk and hardcore bands has always seemed to be that, no matter how caustic they may have sounded when listeners first began paying attention, the desire to get louder/harder/more aggressive as soon as MORE people begin listening to them is nearly immediate. A perfect example of this tradition can be found in the recorded output of Vancouver’s rising stars NEEDS. Upon first appearing with their self-titled album in 2015, the band shattered expectations by delivering a hardcore album totally disinterested in taking itself too seriously, and won fans with the fact that they came off as being completely genuine in their drive too.
Simply said, NEEDS presented the band as aggressive, but also young and with a subversive wit and that got them off the ground but now, three years after that start, NEEDS has returned with Limitations – an album which steps up every aspect of its predecessor so much that it feels almost irrelevant to mention it for anything other than a frame of reference.
As soon as “Rock Day, North Dakota” staggers out to open the A-side of Limitations, those listening will find themselves on the receiving end of an overwhelming sense of unease courtesy of Colin Prensley and Derek Adam’s sort of bent and exhausted guitar tone, but will still stiffen when Devin O’Rourke’s drums and Glenn Alderson’s bass enter the mix because they carry with them such an imposing presence.
In between those entries into the arrangement, listeners will already find energy levels getting consistently edged up by the moment, but the spectacular and over-the-top vocal performance offered by Sean Orr seals the deal. Featuring elements recognizable as being classic screamo and hardcore, Orr’s vocal is immediately the hook which catches and then drags listeners with it because it is just so raw. Lyrics like “Trust in me, trust in us, trust in this cliché called love/ I know you, you know me, let’s live this life we love the best/I’m up and down, you’re left I’m right/ Stay on course we’ll be alright” are intelligible only with the benefit of the lyric sheet found on the album’s sleeve – Orr’s voice is crisp in the mix but impossible to understand – but the sound complements the instrumentation of the song so well that it actually feels wholly welcoming rather than off-putting. It might seem unlikely in print, but it’s phenomenal in practice.
After ”Rock Day, North Dakota” gets the proceedings started raw, “Everybody Makes Me Steaks” refines that orgiastic initial approach by factoring some firmer, tighter drums into the mix, and they help to open the song’s arrangement a bit too. That difference really lets the song breathe more freely; suddenly, the tempo is more manic and frenzied, and Orr’s vocal tone seems less ominous or teetering on a dangerous, lunatic fringe. For the right mind, it’s great and perfectly intoxicating.
Following the collapse of “Everybody Makes Me Steaks,” NEEDS shifts gears and lets Alderson’s bass drive “Sutton Who?” in a more distinctly Pixies-esque direction before “Stop Getting Second Helpings at the Shit Buffet” amps the energy levels to the album’s dizziest and most terrifying yet before splicing in some more bookish inspiration without losing a fraction of the band’s energy for “Hot Dogs of the Walt Whitman Rest Stop” before the band finally goes out of its way to burn up/burn out as they stand on the shoulders of giants for “List of Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions” to close the side.
Throughout this running, NEEDS illustrates that they’re not only capable of controlling their muse regardless of how hard and in what way it might pull, they’re also able to direct it in any manner they choose with phenomenal results. On this A-side, NEEDS’ muse is obviously at their service – not the other way around – and hearing that fact in evidence infers brilliance.
Likewise, the B-side of Limitations continues in the spirit of control – but only in the band’s own unique way. The side limps to life coyly with the intentionally hobbled opening guitar licks of “We’re An Art-Rock Band” before attempting to burn listeners alive with sheets of napalm for three and a half minutes, and then angrily admitting that this band is not infallible with “Rage Against The Miami Sound Machine” (which proves it’s hard not to love a song with a refrain like “We had it! They fucked us! We lost!”) before easing up on the throttle for the militant march of “Endless Idiotic Shots of the Sun” (which also gleefully hints at bookish genius with lines like “Even in smoke and mirrors there are smoke and mirrors/ Am I the only one that’s into solipsism?/ Oh this self-satirizing detachment/ I disgust myself/ But I still care what people think of me”) and then just (figuratively) telling the world to go fuck itself with “The Decline,” which spends most of its own running sitting on a single chord for the verses, and another for the choruses before slamming the door closed on the side.
In that end – regardless of how engaged listeners were throughout the running of Limitations – listeners will find they blink and flinch at the song’s close. The silence which comes as the needle lifts is deafening and disconcerting, and listeners will find they’re instantly inclined to restart the record or restart the side – simply set the needle down in a groove again to get the sound playing again.
After having run front-to-back with Limitations, listeners will almost definitely find that they won’t just be left winded by the exertion required to make it through the album, they may feel compelled to go and lay down to collect themselves. Such a claim may sound like rhetoric, but that’s not the case in the slightest; the unrelenting, unrepentant onslaught unloaded by this album is brick-thick and never breaks for a second. In that way, that this album bears a name like Limitations is laughably ironic; one listen proves that this album and this band clearly have yet to find a limit to the promise and power in them.
(File Under: Music)