I need to start this review with a confession. Cards on the table time. It’s this: I love what TNS Records represent, absolutely. I absolutely love who they are in the scene, I love their DIY ethic, their stand out values, their inclusivity. But… I struggle to love a lot of the music they release. The problem’s not them – its me.
They’re just a bit too ferocious for me. Their music? It’s wild, it’s untamed. It’s punk with the limiters taken off. And, I’ll be honest, I spent most of yesterday evening reading by the log burner, listening to Nina Simone, and some very chilled out Pama International reggae. And so, the brutal reality is… TNS Records are too punk for me?
So, when Bev asked me to have a listen to Harijan‘s new album, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was it going to be wild, ferocious, untamed? Was it going to be too much for me?
What I got was this album. And it’s wild. It’s ferocious. It’s untamed. And its pretty brilliant.
Now, a little history, for those of you who don’t know who Harijan are. (People like me). They are a 9 piece ska punk band from Manchester. They’ve been around since 2003, but somehow this is their first album -even they actually featured on the 3rd ever TNS release in a split with the John Player Specials. Despite their lack of releases, they’ve been stalwarts of the scene for nearly two decades. It’s not unheard of to hear them mentioned in the same breath as bands like Random Hand, Faintest Idea, Capdown, King Prawn (check our review of the latest King Prawn album here)– in other words, an iconic member of UK Ska Punk heritage. Of course, I’d never heard of them, which only makes me all the more unqualified to be running a UK Ska Punk website. #fakeituntilyoumakeit
So, the music. Empty your head of any spoonful-of-sugar pop-ska you might be thinking of. This is not Reel Big Fish territory. This is uneasy, gritty, frustrated ska punk. This is ska music that has been utterly detached from any hint of Florida sunshine and unceremoniously dumped in a council estate in the North West.
It does unexpected things. Exciting things. Dark things, sometimes.
Take track 3, ‘Box Cutter‘. After 3 minutes of thrashing chorus alternating with a more off-beat verse, you think the song has crashed to an end. But it doesn’t. The bass line is still there with a tone that can only be described as a growl as it hurls you back into that chorus once more.
Then you listen again and read the lyrics. This whole track is Mike treating us to a snarled, sarcastic tirade. A heart-felt complaint about the easy criticism society makes of people on benefits. And “Felt” is the right word. When “‘Ave you thought about getting a job yet?” rolls out, its a punch in the gut to any lazy stereotypes we have, perhaps unintentionally, internalised.
Not that easy, I have heard this before
And clearly, you’re just not trying that hard
Look here, box packer, four pounds an hour
You’re joking, I got kids to support
And as for my eroding self-dignity
You are breaking me; I can’t go on like this
Look, it would be wrong for music this truthful to sound happy. To sound anything than just fed up. So this is fed up ska. And I like it. Or at least I empathise with it so much that it moves beyond “like” into “need” territory.
There’s a wide ranging observation going on about the existential angst and day-to-day drudgery experienced by many.
Tracks like ‘Portland Street‘ and ‘Paranoid‘ and ‘Simultaneous Mischievous Smiles‘ directly address the fragmented relationship many have with drugs and alcohol. Especially in our scene. With the cries of “the booze is needed!“, backed by an introspection that shows a reality – “I need it, I hate it, obliterated will“. Sometimes the balance is lost, and our enjoyment takes a back seat to abuse takes more than it gives – “You can never find peace when dependant on a high“.
Yet, even when it doesn’t feel like there is a better option available, there might be a little hope;
Cos you’re running away when you should be fronting up
As you see what it shows and the message has sunk in
It’s a struggle at first
But you break free into life’s real high
Harijan have produced something remarkably consistent here. If their music resonates with you at the beginning, you are in for a treat from start to finish.
The production is also top notch, with crystal clear instrumentation, and a balance between gritty power and icy separation on the heavier sections that’s a little bit breath-taking. Rich and Andy’s guitars pull no punches, whether playing overdriven ska tones or burnt and bleeding chug. You can queue up a track like ‘Divide and rule‘, which gets close to thundering out a metal riff, only to have it elegantly counter-balanced with some of the most haunting and beautiful brass lines I’ve heard in a while.
It’s worth throwing on a decent pair of headphones, just to hear the perfectly rounded tones of Ian’s just-slightly-throaty bass thoughout the record – check out ‘Deconstruction‘ or ‘Skint‘ for great examples of this. Or try ‘Airhead‘ to hear Robert dropping in on the organ to lend a near honky-tonk vibe to the bottom end. Brilliant.
I can’t help but carry on
My trusted old ideals
You break them and you break me
I am safe and I am free
All in, what am I saying? I don’t think there is any other album from this last, weird, awful year that resonates with me quite so clearly. I mean, I loved Laura Jane Grace‘s recent album (check our review of ‘Stay Alive’ here), but that was more of a call to finding yourself in a strange time. This is different. Harijan are furiously disappointed with the state of the world, and in the midst of my own inward focused lockdown melancholy they serve as a reminder that the world hasn’t changed; the poor are still disenfranchised and the wealthy still callous in their disregard.
As I look to town, I can’t help but frown
As money’s pouring in and cranes patrol the sky
As we build these digs for the bourgeoisie
They brought their yuppy culture
Drained our city’s blood
Pushed us out and robbed us blind
As the rain pours down
Just to make the point
And our homes leak through
As theirs pierce the clouds
I’m – undoubtedly – a middle class cis-white male. I own my own house. I have conversations about single origin coffee. My privilege is almost disgusting. Yet our world is full of pain, and it’s important to be reminded of that. Harijan have the experience, the skill and the message to educate us all. And some very hooky horn sections to help ease the medicine down! Everyone needs to hear this.
Get a copy of “Harijan” directly from TNS Records
Listen to it whilst drinking a nice cup of single origin. Maybe.