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30 August 2017

Human Investment (Rotten Propaganda)

I didn't remember this was in my vinyl accumulation; ah, the glorious days of the late 90s punk/hardcore scene. I was always a fly on the wall here (or fly in the ointment?), discovering this subculture in my own hometown and finding it equally curious in terms of lifestyle/community as with the actual music. These people lived in big houses and spoke a shared language built around historically overlooked (by the mainstream music press) records from the 80s and had their own weird Xeroxed cookbooks and a whole code of ethics that was more inviting than intimidating. I remembered this being a long record of thick, dense songs that were almost prog-leaning in their duration and parts, but my memory was wrong. It's really a mini-LP, eight songs that are certainly dense and thick but not particularly long; there aren't any solos or long instrumental sections here, just hardcore delivered between mid-tempo and fast, and totally angry. Human Investment was a local 'supergroup' and this record is all they have left us; it was a side project for everyone involved, though they were popular and certainly had the pedigree. I know I saw them live once, but I can't remember where or when. I wish I remembered enough about the hardcore field of the time to be able to situate their musical stylings in relation to the other names of the time: Born Against, In/Humanity, Assfactor 4. Guitarist Dan Goldberg tends to favour minor interval riffs, and when he switches instruments with bassist Andy Wright, his bass playing takes an active, riffy element under Wright's more wall-of-noise guitar shredding. The dominating figure is vocalist Dave Trenga of Aus-Rotten, who wrote the majority of the lyrics and delivers them in that ridiculous-if-you-think-about-it hardcore delivery style, where they are mostly unintelligible without the accompanying lyric sheet. Trenga's approach is interesting, or perhaps quotidian - he's throaty and angry but it doesn't veer towards metal as so much hardcore is always tempted to. I would describe his approach to phrasing as 'whatever makes it fit', and while there's often rhyming couplets, the concept of metre is completely jettisoned. Do you like topical? Cause Human Investment tackles the death penalty, corporate media, the American two party system, imperialism, prescription drug addiction, hunger, nationalism, and veganism. I'm amazed at how there can be so many words without saying anything really concrete, just outrage and slogans. This isn't anything against Trenga personally, but a product of the genre; no one comes to records with artwork like this seeking nuance and introspection. There are samples from films or other media where appropriate (particularly chilling before 'Capital Punishment', under which the musicians improvise an apocalyptic soundscape before the song starts properly) which is another product of the time, and one that I sort of miss. I'll never understand why hardcore records from this time are recorded so poorly; this is an 8-track recording done by a competent engineer so it's probably as good as it could sound, but these records are always muddy and murky. I guess the genre is partially responsible - Human Investment, like many of their ilk, weren't exactly interested in creating space in their songs, and the mix is always loud and thick. I know for a fact that these guys used nice tube amplifiers, yet somehow it still sounds like scratchy solid state, the rich dynamic of a powerful band being somewhat dampened by the compression of the recording. The songs have hooks buried in them  ('A Life For Meat' is bouncy and almost sing-along) but like the artwork, forever black and white, there isn't enough colour in the songcraft. Still, it's more than a curiosity and was fun to revisit; maybe in a few years I'll try again and see if it ages like a fine wine.

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