On the surface, Long Island emo outfit Iron Chic is cut from the same cloth as style forefathers like Saves the Day, but underneath the pop-punk veneer is one of the most flat-out fun indie rock guitar records of the year.
This is a fun record! But I don’t see why it has to be a “indie rock guitar” one instead of a pop-punk one, other than that being what sells it to a Pitchfork audience. And the ‘emo’ part mystifies me too, although that’s largely because I never got the pop-punk/emo nexus of the 00s (to my mind, emo is an offshoot of hardcore, and pop-punk is something that originally predates hardcore - in the form of the Ramones, or the Undertones - but I accept those two lines did eventually cross).
The review does have some interesting things to say about pop-punk, or at least pop-punk of a certain era, but it’s also infected with an indie sneer, or at least an unconscious element of condescension. It’s hard to tell what part of “bracing, explosive hooks, unresolved sexual and spiritual tension and very meaningful “whoa”s” is, or isn’t, ironic. Especially when it’s followed by this qualifier: “But it fortunately lacks any accusatory overtone, and welcomes far more people than it initially lets on”. I get the criticism of pop-punk as accusatory, although indie often seems to be about accusing the universe as a whole; but what’s this second part?
Iron Chic - which admittedly does sound more like the name of a post-punk band - reminded me initially the most of the Bouncing Souls. The ‘whoas’, the infectious guitar energy, the musical positivity, and the emotional lyrical heart-on-the-sleeve-ness. So far, so pop-punk; although one more removed from the notion of ‘emo’ and closer, at least by labelmates, to Californian punk. Where the album drags for me is when it reminds me of a third East Coast US band, Latterman - who expressed that same kind of positivity but never really went anywhere very interesting or engaging with it; and ironically, whose ‘closest analogue’ for me (in a more indie sense), is Japandroids - as mentioned elsewhere in the review.
Where the album stands out for me is hitting a combination between Bouncing Souls and the more post-hardcore-leaning Hot Water Music, although the two bands (from Jersey and Florida, respectively) converge somewhat anyway in their later records, I think touring together and also exchanging guitar solos (and whoahs) on each others records. The vocals have - at least at times - the gruffness of Hot Water Music; the guitars have the cleanness of the Souls, plus a kitchen sink of pop-punk and other tropes. What the review gets right is that there’s a kind of syncretism going on, although I feel its terms are too narrow:
"Quite often, “pop-punk” gets used to describe something that’s actually indie rock (see: Swearin’, Japandroids), which can trigger a lot of negative biases amongst people who are fairly certain they’re not into the former. The difference lies in tone: pop-punk evokes palm-muted power chords with clean distortion and nasal vocals, whereas indie rock is most associated with shambling, jangly and fuzzy guitars with drawling vocals. Iron Chic gives you both."
Again, while I recognise that definition of pop-punk, it’s not the kind of pop-punk I’d normally listen to (admittedly I’m not a huge pop-punk fan, perhaps for that reason), which I would not in turn consider indie rock.
Andrew made the suggestion that punk - or, more specifically, hardcore, but I’ll get to that - had a necessary tipping point where
"people started to hate all of the self-conscious nihilism and violence, and suddenly what was in favor only months before would be swept aside by a new wave of kids who were tired of feeling surrounded by meanness and aggressive apathy. Maybe it’s finally happening—or at least is trying to happen."
I think that’s pretty recognisable in this kind of pop-punk positivity, even as it incorporates - amongst the cheering riffs - some rather bleak emotional sentiments; it’s arguably there as well in Perfect Pussy; it’s even in the revival-emo of Sinaloa; it is broader than the ‘posi’ movement of hardcore itself, but the essential elements are there each time: a kind of punk generosity of spirit against all the travails of the world, capitalism included. My first introduction to it, Souls aside, was the Hot Water Music album No Division, originally released in 1999.
It covers themes present in all of Hot Water Music’s albums, but with a particularly effective emphasis on community - in a way that seems to me to be an obvious response to traditional and close-minded conceptions of hardcore. The opening track, ‘Southeast First’, states it pretty well:
"It never mattered who you were or where you worked. It never matter who you were, or what you earned. What was mattered was what you gave and what you loved. What mattered was what you gave and what was learned. Like one for all for one. Whatever turn of events may come we all live underground, underground where it stays warm, community with common sounds. We work together to break ground."
There are the traditional hardcore notions of solidarity, mixed with an extra appreciation of tolerance and emotional bonds (perhaps influenced by the original emo movement; the difference being the emphasis on discussing emotions as collective rather than individual aspects). Of course, it’s only rhetoric, but that’s largely what music serves as: and whenever there’s discussion of hardcore or punk’s close-mindedness or intolerance, it’s what my mind goes back to. And I guess, in the end, that’s where I want to bring Iron Chic back to as well. Is it so bad to be traditional?