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Paint It Black
God bless Dan Yemin. The only real criticism that could be leveled against one of the most important and influential figures in modern hardcore is that his career hasn't been as diverse and groundbreaking as his most direct predecessor -- Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools, roughly 14 billion other projects). However, Yemin took a distinct guitar tone and style from Schreifels on Start Today, perfected and popularized it, and the punk rock copycats consequently came in droves.
And now, with the third full-length from Yemin's most aggressive unit yet, Paint It Black, he's actually attempting a mild reinvention of his own. The aforementioned guitar tone laid a rather strong foundation for some of Yemin's most impressive albums (Jersey's Best Dancers, both Kid Dynamite albums, Paradise). However, on New Lexicon Yemin's attempted a new foundation: not only a heavily bassy tone to his band's brand of classically styled hardcore, but a vibe that's even more unsettling with the tinge of industrial noise from co-producer Oktopus (of hip-hop duo Dälek). With a little assistance lent from a bass-boosting stereo, New Lexicon largely seems to achieve the former, and Oktopus's creepy atmosphere pinches tracks like "We Will Not," "Severance" and "White Kids Dying of Hunger," helping bring the latter to life. Granted, Lexicon doesn't always bear the throbbing low end Yemin's intended, but the album would probably be a bit overwhelming if it was always bellowing so much.
Clearly, Yemin's taste for underground hip-hop has affected his lyrics in a positive and striking way (he reviews such albums for a local Philadelphia zine). The influence is immediately stark, as it paints the initial lines of opener "The Ledge": "He says he wants to get better / but first he has to get a little sicker. / He holds his tongue like he holds his liquor. / Too young to call it quits. / Too old to settle for nostalgia, so he settles for this." His voice is as sincerely angry and outraged as he's been, too; you can practically feel the spit awkwardly hitting your face.
Musically, Paint It Black pull from both their albums for the usual half-hour rage. (Of course, it should be noted that the album does actually reach a half-hour this time around, but that's likely helped by Oktopus's interludes.) The raw fury of CVA is commonplace, but so is the shockingly melodic and upbeat twists and turns offered in "Past Tense, Future Perfect," or the absolutely raging and dynamic "White Kids Dying of Hunger." In "Past Tense," you never see the hopeful backup cry or eager guitar riff coming, and surprises like these are as pleasant as possible. There's a bone-chilling moment in "New Folk Song" where a "whooooa-uhh-ohhh" erupts, the climate changes and Yemin then earnestly growls "we don't know what we are / but we're sure of what we're not." A swelling nature in "The Beekeeper" changes directions at points thought to be impassable, with a riff oddly reminiscent of Modern Life Is War and Yemin coyly remarking "Out of step? Yeah, I know what that feels like" before the band burst out with the song's anthemic, closing climax: "Live fast, but don't die young. / Slow down, but never, ever, stop." Continuing the spirit of obvious `80s hardcore references, "Check Yr Math" seems to soundcheck "Rise Above" for a hot second.
New Lexicon doesn't quite hit as consistently hard as Paradise, nor can its best moments match up with the incredible anthems of the latter. Still, trying to dismiss New Lexicon as anything less than accomplished, dynamic and fully engaging is futile. Almost 20 years after a barefoot Dan Yemin began jumping around in basements with a guitar in hand and a "GO!" primed for encouragement, he's somehow produced another instant near-classic that really does attempt to expand hardcore's vocabulary in more ways than one.