As the curtain falls for the first act of this farcical drama called 2022, Straw Man Army’s “SOS” already feels like this year’s album – yes, in a boring way, music-chalk-praise-language, but more markedly, on the steely, zeitgeist -in-in-a-clenched-fist kind of way. This New York punk duo stares directly into the hybrid disasters that pile up on the horizon and don’t blink.
“Humanity can be hard to find,” the album’s opening line reads, cymbals and guitars flicker in a straight line, while the talk-song narrative goes on to explain how “species carrying a spiritual debt are strained at the weight of those of their species. ” These texts are read as poetry, but they sound like a nod to the crushing alienation generated by humanity’s various existential crises: the intensification of climate change, the perpetual threat of nuclear war, the brutal legacy of colonialism, the unsustainable dominance of capitalism and more. Mankind’s biggest problem is itself, and the only solution we have managed to come up with so far is to cover our eyes.
But from that point on, the Straw Man Army – Owen Deutsch and Sean Fentress – refuse to shake, panic, scold or proselytize. Instead, the band assesses the effort and confronts the world’s overwhelming cruelty with a sound that is conscious, humane and very much its own. Imagine the crisp jingle of post-punk along with the martial arts of anarcho-punk, but played with the sensitivity, intimacy and awareness of jazz, and you might get close.
At times, the band’s lyricism with blunt clarity threatens to obliterate all neighboring sounds – but not on “State of the Art”, a conspicuous number about the speed of life distortions we all experience in the hyperlink in the digital. age. “The speeds exceed, keep up with the times,” they sing in syncopated stalemate. “The wind whips our face up here, the heights are sublime / Do not tear scales from my eyes, I will not die.” As the tempo of the song repeatedly increases and decreases, you can hear the duo lose and regain control of their temporal existence until the whole song feels as if it is breathing.
This is important because this music is not about despair. It’s about life. It’s about looking hard into a dark future and deciding how we can better protect each other, right now and tomorrow. (To begin with, the Straw Man Army donates all profits from “SOS” to the Roots Unbounds Commissioner Fund.)
And just in case the songs hadn’t already made that clear, there’s a mission statement printed on the album’s post confirming that Straw Man Army’s “SOS is not an emergency signal” – rather, it’s an exclamation, a sudden outburst, witness to an ongoing economies of scale, “they write.” For those of us born after the ‘end of history’, it is no easy task to find out where we stand. And here we are, trying to get a good look at it. “
They sound as if they have found the truth. To see what they see, listen.