Whereas every other d-beat record I’ve heard sounds like it was recorded inside a trash can, Ascend/Descend’s Murdock Street gains its power from the fact that this is hardcore recorded like high-end black metal: each aspect of the quartet stands out, shining brightly. The separation between everything on Murdock Street sounds streamlined, but by no means is that any kind of “not punk enough” slag on the Boston hardcore band. If anything, it makes everything that much more distinct.
Case in point: the song which closes side A, “Rot,” begins with a riff. Like, a capital “R” RIFF — the sort of thing Matt Pike dreams about. It’s big and it absolutely rips, and that’s because it’s not buried in a muddy mix. It comes roaring out of the speakers: clear, distinct, heavy as a truckload of bricks. Then, you flip the album, and go from the slightly-slowed down determinism of “Rot” to the full-tilt ripper of “Trigger Warning,” whose start-stop beginning draws attention to vocalist Michelle Dugan’s lyrics, as does the slowed-down ending, with her declaration, “Don’t tell us it’ll be ok/You don’t know that/Don’t tell us you’ll keep us safe/You don’t know that/You never will.” It’s a song which — like Punch’s “Worth More Than Your Opinion” from a couple years back — takes on men in hardcore and their tendency to make things about them, even in the case of women’s issues.
Album closer, “Phoenix,” works well in its closing moments, especially with the gang vocals on repeated shouts of “Hold no faith in tomorrow.” Its predecessor, “Worship of Wealth,” rocks a guitar tone that falls somewhere between Apocalypse Hoboken and Motley Crue, a strange and intriguing thing that bridges punk and metal. It’s almost disappointing when the chorus comes, because — while still pretty great — it’s nowhere near as cool as the rest of the song. Guitarist Nicholas Wolf, in one song, creates a tone other bands have worked their entire careers to fail at.
If it seems like I’m ignoring the rhythm section, it’s because they’re so hard to single out. Basically, every track is dependent on bassist Max Holbrook and drummer Alex Garcia-Rivera. They’re so integral to the sound of Ascend/Descend that to change anything they’ve done on Murdock Street would be to harm it irreparably. The drum rolls which kick off the likes of “Manipulator” and “Rot” set the tone, while album opener “Consequence” doesn’t really sound right until the bass dirties it the hell up.
This is a short album, but manages to hit all the right notes in its brief duration. Everything’s on-point and while it’s a pretty good listen overall, as a debut, it slays.
The black vinyl sounds great. It’s clear, clean and the balance between everything is just right. Dugan’s vocals come through, aren’t buried in the mix and they don’t overwhelm the rest of the band. It seems like it’s mastered to be a little lower, but given it’s a 45 RPM LP, that probably allowed for the grooves to get a little wider and give Ascend/Descend a nice little extra rumble. It sounds great when blasted, never distorting or necessitating a turn-down.
The packaging is black and white all the way through. Nice color-inverted, handwritten lyrics on the insert pair nicely with the jacket artwork. The jacket artwork is simple, and the way the rear cover hearkens back to innumerable hardcore albums with its imagery and font work keeps Murdock Street from being immediately identifiable in any one particular time period.
There’s a download code and lyric sheet, but that’s it. Plain black vinyl is the name of the game here, and other than the fact you have to look to the runout grooves to figure out which side is which, it’s pretty nondescript. However, putting the necessary RPM somewhere on your center labels should be mandatory.
“Murdock Street” is available on vinyl and cassette from Bandcamp.