First off, the elephant in the room. Whilst I wanted to explore this record on its own terms, it was hard to ignore the fact that the people in Fake Names have previously been in some of the world’s most influential hardcore and punk bands.
Fortunately, the record itself helped me with that job. Although bands like Minor Threat, S.O.A. and Refused (to name just a few of those bands) were responsible for establishing and refining the hardcore template, the music here is softer, more melodic, more straightforwardly ‘punk’. When I first heard these guys were making music together, I envisaged an aggressive, visceral racket, a timely response to the state of the world as it is in 2020. This is not that record.
Which is not to say that it is a bad record. There will be those who are disappointed that it isn’t the furious hardcore missive they had hoped it would be. That ignores the pleasures that this album does offer up, taken on its own terms. I can’t speak for the group’s intentions, but it feels like it is the record they wanted to make, rather than one they were compelled to create. Where much of the work by their former bands is caustic and confrontational, this is a catchy album with a clear focus on melody and songcraft.
The choruses are particularly strong. On ‘Being Them’, the band sounds anthemic and emotive, Dennis Lyxzen singing about how he “can’t escape the noise that’s ringing in my head” over the top of driving guitars, his voice pained and cracking. He sounds similarly impassioned on the chorus of ‘Darkest Days’, his exhortation that “only breathing is not enough” sounding all the more forceful after the shift from the more muted verses. The final song on the album sees him pledging to “hold on to this lost cause”, the speeding, skittering drums underpinning the sense of urgency and desire in the lyrics.
The music is up-tempo, melodic punk that doesn’t break too much new ground sonically. There are a few flourishes from outside of the genre to bolster the sound. ‘Heavy Feather’ and ‘First Everlasting’ both make effective use of group backing vocals borrowed from the power pop template, whilst several of the songs feature guitar solos much closer to the classic rock songbook than anything you will find on Complete Discography or The Shape of Punk to Come. Mostly though, the band stick to a fairly well-trodden path. Nothing here will be unfamiliar to fans of mainstream American punk, but Fake Names mine that terrain effectively to create punchy, arresting songs that don’t outstay their welcome.
The lyrics are in similarly canonical territory, taking aim at those in power and the direction society has taken. However, they are too often on the wrong side of vague to be truly effective. Neither purposefully elliptical and poetic nor explicit, they walk a middle line that on occasion veers dangerously close to sixth form band territory. That the band gets away with it, mostly, is due to the verve with which the songs are performed. More engaging is the portrait of personal turmoil and confusion that Lyxzen dishes up on several tracks. ‘Weight’ is a great example of this, the image of “your heartbeat in my hand” far more arresting than anything he conjures up on the more political numbers.
Will this record go down as an essential document in the same way that of the bandmembers’ others have? Probably not. But it’s an energetic, engaging burst of punk. Turn it up loud and lose yourself for half an hour.
Words by Will Collins