The past two years have been very good to Sacramento hardcore blazers Trash Talk. Years of hard touring behind their frankly terrifying live show, one of endlessly flailing limbs, shredded vocal cords, and the distinct possibility of being nailed by frontman Lee Spielman during one of the frequent instances in which he turns himself into a human projectile, resulted in a meteoric rise in prominence. That this rise went hand-in-hand with a creative blossoming only sweetened the deal. 2010’s Eyes And Nines harnessed 17 minutes of blastbeats, tempo switches, doom excursions, and Spielman’s piercing screech into one of the year’s better hardcore packages, while 2011’s Awake EP beefed up the more straightforward punk approach while still maintaining ferocity. These triumphs, and the wise decision to align with the similarly anarchic Odd Future crew seemed to prime Trash Talk for even bigger and better goals. As so, 119 does not achieve them.
That the first product of their new label affiliation is their most muzzled, simplified work to date is both unexpected and confusing. Spielman’s lyrics are mostly reduced to a laundry list of familiar hardcore phrases, with precious little of the vivid imagery that was sprinkled throughout the rest of Trash Talk’s catalog . There’s talk of going “to hell and back,” unifying calls of “you’re not alone,” “class war”s, being “hung out to dry,” and so on, but nothing that hasn’t been banged out into slogan status throughout punk history. Their ideas for song titles this time around are simply opposite phrasings of common statements: “Uncivil Disobedience,” “For The Lesser Good,” seemingly aimed at disgruntled high school students.
Then, there’s the actual songwriting. About seven tracks in, 119 settles into a series of mid-tempo jogs that fail to really go anywhere. “Thanks, But No Thanks” and “Bad Habits” provide blunt-force CPR, but the damage has already been done: they’ve made a 22 minute album seem twice as long. Then, there’s “Blossom and Burn,” their collaboration with Hodgy Beats and Tyler, the Creator that accomplishes nothing artistically, but points out once again that these guys know Odd Future now. What initially seems like a song in the vein of Eyes and Nines doom march “Hash Wednesday” flies completely off the rails when Hodgy comes in shouting “EENIE MEENIE MINIE MOE,” just to be followed by a nonsensical Tyler verse that includes a head-scratching Portishead name drop and a generic call for getting buck in the mosh pit.
Bar none, the most egregious offense of 119 is the production job. Garrett Stevenson’s guitar finds itself stripped of a lot of its sharp bite. All of the vocals are draped in just enough reverb for it to be distracting, making it seem like Spielman and bassist/vocalist Spencer Pollard are suspended awkwardly above the action instead of dropped in the midst of it. Which is a shame, because both members deliver fantastic performances. You can actually hear Spielman’s voice growing rawer and rawer as the album progresses, sounding inches away from coughing up a lung on “Reasons,” while Pollard’s voice has grown in authoritative heft, absolutely destroying on “Thanks, But No Thanks” and closer “Dogman”
Trash Talk have proven several times that they’re better than this. Thier career has been one of constant improvement and refinement over a seven year period. To see them slip like this with all the momentum they have going in their favor simply isn’t enjoyable. But, having proven that their true dominance emerges on the stage, an iffy album such as this could hardly be considered a career killer.