One of life’s plodders, me, I don’t wish to make any great claims for myself in terms of original thinking, but I may be on the verge here of saying something that nobody has ever said before. Only one person can confirm this. I declare, publicly and unashamedly: Carl, you are a true gentleman.
Why? Why of course, for passing onto me this* delicious morsel of seminal proto-emo-grunge, for which I can only humbly agree to keep my part of the bargain – duck aplenty here mate. Yes, once again I am overwhelmed with nostalgia, as well as bewilderment and shame at why I didn’t wax lyrical about this great band last December when I learnt of the premature death of guitarist Larissa Strickland. Better late than never, I guess.
The Laughing Hyenas will surely be loved by any fan of powerful, emotive and frequently heavy-as-fuck rock bands, bands who could wring almost unbearably personal, tortured sounds from the guitar such as Hüsker Dü, the Jesus and Mary Chain or, dare I mention the name again, Thin White Rope. Why was this band so criminally overlooked? Perhaps thanks to the despicable idleness of those who dismissed them as Stooges rip-offs solely on the basis of the fact that they also hailed from Ann Arbour,
There is no shortage of Raw Power here, but also echoes of the Birthday Party, maybe the Gun Club, certainly plenty of Preaching the Blues, with a conviction that borders on the psychotic. As well as Larissa Strickland’s distinctive, jaggedly mournful guitar style, the extraordinary vocals of John Brannon, formerly of hardcore punks Negative Approach, are an obvious outstanding feature. However, whilst with Negative Approach Brannon sounded merely angry, possibly a result of the burning sensation in his ears caused by all those whispers of “great band but they’re not as good as Minor Threat are they?”, in the Hyenas his spectacular (and I do mean spectacular. I mean how did he do it? His voice ought to come with a government health warning, I remember once in my foolish youth trying to imitate him in the safety of my own home and being barely able to speak for three days afterwards) vocal capacity is put to far more effective, and affecting use. Not that he conveys a huge range of emotions here either you understand, but with regard to the emotions he does convey, few would doubt his sincerity. Throughout their entire body of work Brannon sounds like an animal in pain, accompanied by Larissa’s piercing, drawn-out guitar and a cleanly sparse rhythm section.
Given my penchant for wilfully irony-free earnestness, fond indulgence of crudeness etc. I suppose it’s inevitable that such an obviously heart-on-sleeve wearing band would appeal to me. Songs with titles like “Love’s My Only Crime” or “Desolate Son” are both confessions and manifestos. Lyrical nuance might not be their forte: “Lonesome, lonesome nights / Lonely stars that shine so bright / Each one alone up in the sky / Each one alone and SO .. AM… I!!!” is probably up there with Black Flag’s “Depression” - “They say things are gonna get better / All I know is, THEY FUCKING BETTER!!!” - as an example of how the sheer force of the delivery, rather than coherence and craft, can sometimes be enough to carry an argument. And in the seething “New Gospel”, only an acutely autistic sociopath could remain unmoved by Brannon’s agonised shrieks of “Put (?) me in the water / And wash it all away”. Wash what all away? Whatever it is, there’s no doubt it’s something pretty fucking terrible. About as far from post-modern playfulness or indeed Sardonic, as it’s possible to be, the Laughing Hyenas were the sound of an open wound. Out of respect for Larissa, and in fact for the salvation of your own souls (yeah, I can do conviction too), get on their case now.
*BOLLOCKS!! They’ve fucking deleted it! Anyone who wants a copy burning, let me know. George, I’ll bring a copy down with me.