Friday, 15 July 2016

Double Review: Useless ID - We Don't Want The Airwaves (EP) / State Is Burning (Album) [2016]

Photo by Adi Khavous

Things have been a bit quiet for Israel's biggest punk band, Useless ID, in recent years. All for good reason, though. Not only has vocalist and bassist Yotam Ben Horin been busy holding his own, doing solo acoustic tours and releasing another solo album, California Sounds, but the band has been in Colorado working on their 8th studio album, State Is Burning.

Before the album's official release, the band put out the We Don't Want The Airwaves EP on the famous punk label Fat Wreck Chords

We Don't Want The Airwaves

The EP's title track is a Ramones' tribute anthem that bounces along in sweet punk rock fashion, speaking of how great the Ramones were and also singing praise to friend and fellow musician Brandon Carlisle of Teenage Bottlerocket who died late 2015. It's a little different to what the band are known for, as it really takes a more Teenage Bottlerocket rock n roll punk influence, even including a key change! 

The rest of the EP is 2 tracks that don't feature on the album and an acoustic version of the album's title track. Right Wing Fascist Killing Spree is an acoustic anthem for peace which only an Israeli could write, as it touches upon conscription and not wanting to be involved in the war. Although lyrically similar to classic track State Of Fear, it is done in pure protest song fashion, with the angry acoustic guitar giving the song more meaning. Tension is a song I recognise from Yotam's acoustic shows. Here, the whole band have come together to give the once soothing song more of a kick, making it a melodic punk song which could have easily been on previous album, Symptoms. The acoustic version of State Is Burning which finishes off the EP is something else I remember from solo shows. Its chorus is memorable and poignant and, much like Right Wing Fascist Killing Spree, is made ever the more intense being just guitar and raw vocals. 


 As well as including We Don't Want The Airwaves and a full version of State Is Burning, which takes on a more aggressive Living End meets Anti-Flag sound, this year's most talked about album (in the Israeli punk scene, at least) is full of perfectly written songs, some even exploring areas of punk that the band haven't really done before.

  Fans were already treated to the album's minute long opening track, Land Of Idiocracy, prior to release. Starting with an "Aaaaah", it's fast, it's frustrated and it's politically charged. Basically, it's pure punk! Although Useless ID have done fast songs in the past, this leans more towards the stylings of Bad Religion, 7 Seconds and Pennywise with a hint of street punk, as opposed to their usual style. This is certainly a great kickstart to the album.
 This faster, more hardcore sound is not a one off on this album. Following track Stopwatch, 45 Seconds and Without A Choice are the other more hardcore tracks on this record. Stopwatch could almost be an Ignite song, with its bouncy opening bassline leading up to high speed drums and powerful vocals. Both 45 Seconds and Without A Choice are short blasts of 7 Seconds style hardcore that run right by you but are so good you could have them on repeat. Without A Choice is a pro-vegan, animal rights song which you'd really only notice when reading the lyrics. It's melody is just so enticing that it becomes the focus more than the sentiment. Sometimes it's good to have to search for the meaning.
  Genetic, Lonely Man and Detune are still pretty fast but more melodic and pop punk. Genetic could nearly be a Not On Tour song, although the guitar solo is of a higher, more impressive standard. Lonely Man is almost quintessentially Useless and Detune has a Say It Ain't So-like slow beginning which then zooms into some fast melodic pop punk paired with lyrics about the band's real feelings towards war and society.
 All the faster songs aside, there are those like Borrowed Time and How To Dismantle An Atom Bomb which might have hints of heavier punk roots in the verses but the choruses are pure Useless. Borrowed Time is especially infectious, having been in my head ever since I heard it. ..Atom Bomb has an anthemic hook of "We are, we are.." which sounds a little bit dated but probably won't stop anyone from singing along.
  Creation, Novice and final track, Closer To The Edge, would all sit perfectly on previous albums like Lost Broken Bones or Symptoms. I can't help but find similarities within some of the choruses, such as Yotam touching upon Dave Grohl-like vocals a la The Pretender on Creation and Novice resembling Man Eater (Hal & Oates). That might just be me. Night Shift is the only other track on here like We Don't Want The Airwaves, with a more simplistic punk rock rhythm and Ramones style guitar parts. This makes it one of the highlights, along with Without A Choice, Stopwatch and Borrowed Time.

  In a lot of places on the record, Yotam's voice sounds much harsher than before and sometimes even unrecognisable. It could have come with practice or naturally due to being older, wiser and more pissed off with the world. Either way, it does sound good but unfortunately lends itself to resemblances to other bands and singers. Musically, guitarists Ishay and Guy, drummer Gideon and Yotam (bass) are all on point. There are no standout riffs or drum parts, as such, besides the aforementioned solo on Genetic and the Stopwatch bassline. However, there is no song that makes you want to skip forward. Most of the lyrical content sticks to what the band knows best; life in a war-torn country and having to grow up too fast. For fans of the more mainstream Useless ID sound, there might be a few tracks here which go over their heads but for those who have always loved their skater punk side, they have delivered and then some! 


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