Self Defense Family
When the Barn Caves In
Release date: November 27, 2015
For such an amorphous collective, Self Defense Family might be the most intractable band in punk. Since the band dropped the name End of a Year in favor of something less “metalcore,” the band has undergone numerous lineup changes—no set of liner notes bears exactly the same list of contributing musicians. Despite this, the band has not “reinvented” their sound as much as refined it, diving deeper and deeper into an approach built not on build and release, but ever-increasing tension, creating something both atmospheric and deeply claustrophobic.
Their new EP When The Barn Caves In follows the basic template set out in Heaven Is Earth, their LP from earlier this year: moody, angular post-punk that forgoes traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure in favor of steady forward motion. Gone are the hints of woozy reverb and whammy that lent elements of shoegaze to their sound, but WTBCI follows the same trajectory of HIE—the EP feels like an extension of the album, an expansion on a theme.
The center of Self Defense Family’s rotating lineup has always been vocalist Patrick Kindlon, whose strained bellow sets the tone for the band’s attitude: world weary, frustrated, and hoarse as hell. He’s digs at society’s ills, the obsessions and self-importance of others, but never misses a chance to reflect on his own behaviors and fixations that make him complicit in much of what he criticizes. The EP’s title track dissolves into a single repeated proclamation: “I have no portion control.” It’s a blunt indictment of a fast food nation, it’s a personal confession, it’s an imitation of a larger lack of self-control that cripples a supposedly free people.
This idea of criticism being inextricable from the problem itself (or the critic being unable to fully transcend the problems s/he criticizes) is a theme laid out in “In My Defens Self Me Defend.” The opening track from Heaven Is Earth was probably the band’s closest approximation of a manifesto, a moody shuffle washed in gauzy chord bends and layers of meandering guitar pinpricks, an unassuming template over which Kindlon repeated declares that one thing after another are “not my concern.” It hammers but it doesn’t thunder, pounds the point home until the whole track throbs like a headache without every bursting into anything truly cathartic. It’s a remarkable exercise in restraint, and it underscores the tension in Kindlon’s voice, but it’s also an exercise in monotony. It never deviates from its single purpose. And yeah, that’s the point, but the song’s deliberate trudge doesn’t feel like a victory even if it achieves its own goals.
“Alan,” the second song on the new EP, echoes almost everything from “In My Defens,” despite being two minutes shorter. Guitar lines wind peevishly around each other, recalling both the pace and the structure of “In My Defens.” Kindlon once again finds a single point to bang on, insisting, “I have a hard time” with making contact, new situations, any kind of sex, etc. He has the riveting ability to thread the line between self-loathing and a high-handed critique of society, but his stone-faced intensity approaches piety, and piety is only really captivating to believers.
Kindlon’s Twitter presence, both on the Self Defense Family account and his personal one, is infamous: he is inflammatory, caustic, and hilarious, skewering the music scene, pop culture, comic books, and Twitter itself. He’s proudly disaffected, a gifted troll, and his humor is apparent in lyrics and song titles throughout End of a Year/Self Defense Family’s discography. However, that humor isn’t coming through in the music anymore. The lyrics are still pointed and intelligent, but it’s no longer clear if the self-seriousness is still ironic.
What Kindlon is doing with Self Defense Family is remarkable and represents a commitment to an aesthetic above and beyond even bands with short careers, much less a group with the history of SDF, but the songs themselves go down easier as missives than as rousing anthems.
Reviewed by Keegan 1340