Written by: Dave Cantrell
So, a little over three years ago, I got the opportunity to develop a post-punk, live, on-air radio show here in Portland, a notion I’d been carrying around for a fair while. At the time – amazingly now I think about it – I was almost wholly unaware of the preponderance of scenes flourishing around the world (not least here in the Pacific Northwest) and originally designed the show around that time, using Simon Reynolds’ prescribed time span (1978-’84) as my parameter, my own experience living inside those years as drive. Soon, thanks to this piece by now-friend Oliver Sheppard, a vast, boundaryless, insatiably buzzing and world-spanning new reality began opening up, startling yours truly in the best way imaginable. Gathering daily exponential speed, that world continues to open up and by now my show is 75% new bands – most of the playlist’s records dating from no later than 2010 – and would be 100% easy were it not for a self-imposed policy to devote a single block every week to the heroic originators. And while it’s been an extraordinary delight to find myself riding this new inundative wave of fresh, truly exciting young bands flooding in from the four corners, be it Puerto Rico, Indonesia, remotest Russia, or even Florida, the keenest thrill, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes from the surge of bands in my own backyard. Portland, as mentioned in many of SEM’s “NEXT” lists, has an almost indecently fertile scene, and swirling richly in the thick of it is this lot with the intriguingly nondescript, relatively shadow-free name.
Tipped early to your DJ/correspondent by Shadowhouse’s Shane McCauley, LUNCH struck immediately as a force. For a band at such a nascent place in their development they built their repertoire quickly and with authority, they were tight and clearly dedicated to their group purpose, had in frontman Prometheus Wolf (an alias, of course, but his secret’s safe with me) a natural focal point swanning with an unforced charisma, and, more to the point, they kept improving with every show, no small feat considering I’d see them at the Know or wherever almost every month. Subsequently, the band outgrew their debut 7″ almost by the time it was issued (Johnny Pineapple in 2013) – the only time it reflected their live performance was the very first time I saw them – and those of us invested in our town’s thriving community laid in eager wait for the LP, ready to pounce on a debut that, we figured, could not disappoint and christ al-bloody-mighty did we figure correctly.
Trading in a darkly exuberant, preternaturally melodic post-punk that’s as astute as it is unapologetically devotional, LUNCH have the nerve and common sense to pursue a pop nous while simultaneously climbing the angular, occasionally spiky snake ladder to a place approaching – and often overtaking – greatness. Writhing with the tension that comes from being just untethered enough to exhibit a wild precision, LUNCH, in sound and songcraft, constantly exude a sense of their own organic potential. These tracks have the feel of having just spilled from them, alive with it the way all enduring, place-marking debuts are. I’d say ‘imagine Buzzcocks’ two-guitar classic singles energy crossbred with Lowlife’s excited melancholy‘ or something – which in truth is not all that inaccurate – but that would be facile. Comparisons and parallels can often be handy (if at times a tad lazy) but LUNCH asks more of us.
Named after a Kenneth Patchen poem, Let Us Have Madness Openly, theme-wise, doesn’t shy away from its source inspiration’s dark jubilance, opaque wafts of despair given redemptive treatments via crisp, buoyant arrangements that, while still gazing into the howl of the abyss, don’t allow for wallowing. With musicianship to match it pound for pound, there’s nowhere to go here where you don’t feel chargingly welcome.
“Marble Foyer,” the record’s entryway (ha!), begins inauspiciously enough, just Wolf plucking out a single lonely note for a couple measures then instantly the wallop, not too ferocious, mind, but full and undoubting, an arrival heralded by the assured level assault of a band getting it right first beat. LUNCH is a band built on a deft mix of nuance and overt, flash-brilliant presence, there’s a fluid punch to this song that acts as prologue for all that follows. The quick “Flat Circles” has the band ganging up on a jump-angled bassline (Jared Bird on the record, since replaced by Brian Edwards) and turning it into the most head-nodding indictment about the evils of coin you’ve doubtless ever heard, “Brand New Shirt’ lurches after a trap-thump drum opening (Matthew Huffman, arguably the band’s nerve center) with a conflicted anti-capitalist verve that nods with a call-and-response vocal and peristaltic structure to a certain Leeds band of note, and the sorta kinda title track (“Madness Openly”) throws its shapes about with a concise abandon, DJ the quiet but hyper-fluent guitarist in the corner slinging melody over the top like he’s in discussion with a deathless, more articulate version of the Gun Club, the final two words of singer Wolf’s final line (“How is no one else seeing this cosmic joke?“) bringing ballast and, umm, cosmic balance to the weightiness within. And then shit gets real.
However the decision was made to found the hopelessly hook-laden first single “Not An Ocean” on a strummed, mic’ed, 12-string rhythm acoustic, it’s a genius stroke. Though soon overtaken by JD’s ringing, clarion guitar riff and the staccato brunt of the rhythm section, that guitar’s tempering influence in the left channel stays and, besides the shiver-inducing melodicism it brings, paradoxically adds to the tracks soaring propulsion as well. Far from being the sacrilegious element many bands of their age and ilk might reflexively consider it, LUNCH have the simple insight to recognize the inherent value of the unexpected. Not, I suppose, a big deal in the larger scheme of things, it nonetheless feels like it, and a tone that has already been set from the off, of a young band emerging in fully matured stride, is now set in canonical stone.
Quite naturally any track following “Not An Ocean” might seem a bit overshadowed and “Pouring Light” indeed does a little, its deliberate tempo perhaps ill-placed though its layer of moaning electric drone, as if the walls are seeping feedback, wins the day, while the spunk of “Witch’s Apartment,” Wolf as McCulloch’s bratty – i.e. far more captivating by this point – younger brother as the band shifts its momentum into sheer overdrive, will whip a smile on to your face. “Bad Cut” is then injected by a fervent charge a la Protex in a dark adrenaline factory (DJ should really win something for his yeoman’s work here) before “A Closet Freezes” closes things out with three minutes of a soaring, yearning if still pugnacious poignancy, as fitting a thematic recap as imaginable, the song yin and yanging between running away with itself and hauling itself back in, exactly the dynamic, the tension, underlying LUNCH’s sound, the magic ‘X’ factor that pushes and pulls one toward a kind of intuitively-reached golden mean.
Another gem in the lengthening legacy that is ‘records produced at Buzz or Howl Studios by Stan Wright’ (that room and that producer have the gift for capturing a live feel, crucial for this band and this album and may the buzzing and howling never cease), Let Us Have Madness Openly also proudly joins a burgeoning – one might say bursting – roster of releases by Portland punk and post-punk bands that’s the rival of any city in the world and which may finally and definitively answer the question as to why so many people are moving here. At this moment I think it can safely be said to all those moaning and wringing their hands over the tide of creative immigrants overrunning our delicate Rose City borders, don’t blame Portlandia, blame LUNCH.