If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past three decades then you will know that Austin is a bastion for great music, more notably, their punk scene. One of the town’s most exciting export, Institute, have came out with their debut record, “Catharsis”, and it is bleak as f**k.
Comprised of ex-members of bands like Glue, Wiccans, Blotter and Back to Back, together as Institute they take their Hardcore stylings and pushes their sound into darker, more austere territory. This may not be a new thing, 80’s groups like Husker Du or Mission of Burma abandoned their Hardcore sound for more New Wave and Post Punk efforts, respectively, even contemporary acts seemingly have a penchant for veering from their aggressive and distorted sound for gloomy gaze rock like Ceremony has with their latest effort, “The L Shaped Man”. Institute has been making morose Post Punk that still carries the visceral ethos to be found in their earlier projects since their debut in 2013.
They caught my attention with their widely impressive “Salt” EP from last year, it captures everything I could want from a Punk band in the 21st century, being that their sound is an amalgam of Anarcho that doesn’t wax poetic, Hardcore that isn’t too repetitive and Dark Punk that isn’t too gothy. Vocalist Moses Brown channels a deranged Darby Crash against a heavily distorted string section and booming D-beats, each song they put out is as unforgivingly morose as the last. Here with “Catharsis” they have cleaned up their sound a little bit, but in no way have they pulled any punches.
Opening the album is the lead single “Perpetual Ebb”, which gives off a real 1977 feel but Moses’ despondency counteracts any positivity the instrumental may give, easily an immediate standout and shows you just what to expect from these guys thenceforth. This is not in anyway a cheerful record, which is not remotely a bad thing because “Catharsis” is in essence the perfect blend of self degradation, apathy and anger. “Admit I’m S**t” takes Moses from dejected self examination to a bellicose howl against a melody you would expect to carry anti-police lyrics. Immediately after comes “I Am Living Death”, which sounds like their attempt at New Wave but instead end up with a haunting three minute burner that hooks you into darkness and eats your soul with it’s dissonant outro.
Where ever the album goes, the tension is impossibly high, even the 50 second interlude anointed with shrill feedback and indistinct vocals buried under it feels more like a imprecation foreboding the madness to follow than mid-album filler. From the spoken word meets guttural Punk of “Cheaptime Morals” to the pogo worthy ultimate downer as the name suggests, “Cheerlessness”, this monotone vocal laced jam is as mosh pit ready as it is f**king depressing; this record never feels trite as most Punk records tend to even barely hitting 30 minutes in run time, nor does it become too gloomy in all of it’s stark realism. The album’s most menacing tune, “No Billowing Wind”, seems to be an indistinct yet noticeably trenchant argument Moses is having with himself. His punk sneer, caustic melodrama and battle within all coalesce greatly on “Catharsis” but this song really shows Moses Brown as one of the most exciting frontman working today, being that he is as intensely captivating as he is bat s**t terrifying.
It would be a disservice to dismissed this solely as another Punk record, the minutiae of each song reflects how they have blended all of their styles into an elixir of forward thinking Gloom Punk that does both of those words great justice. Hardcore will forever be on the cusp of being a moribund sub-genre, it may exist in little pockets of music towns like Austin, but I find to be laudable to take the sound’s signature anger and all around fervor into a new direction as Institute has here. Very much like Australia’s Total Control, they keep their edge even when embracing the self and honesty over quixotic pleas for anarchism, it’s organized chaos with serious heart. What really sells it is the raw DIY feel in it’s low-fi presentation, this record does not feel overproduced nor polished to be perfect, the soul is it’s imperfection.
Though imperfection can work for or against a band, the album’s untitled track is an instrumental version of what sounds like a Flux of Pink Indians tune as if it was recorded through a phone call, which is a little too low-fi even for a band from a Punk background, certainly doesn’t have a place on a studio album. The album’s eight minute closer “Christian Right” is great in the middle, but the two minutes before and after makes a song meant to be abridged feel a little too stretched out. Suffice it to say that this album isn’t exactly something you would listen to from start to finish but each track does offer something for even the most jaded Punk purist. After an exciting EP in “Salt” and two great demo’s, this debut album shows that Institute is really the band that teenage louts and twenty somethings with a bleeding heart for all things Post Punk can unite, there is no grandiose here, just pure good times even in the darkest of moments. The pathos found here is brilliantly equipoised with unstoppable energy . “Catharsis” is as poignant as it is nihilistic but overall, truly cathartic.