It’s often said that there are three certainties in life, death, taxes and a new Coathangers record every two years. Whether it is the distinctive vocal interplay between the three singers or the clean and distorted indie-pop that underpins the band’s sound there is something uniquely listenable about the Atlanta band’s informed agit-pop. At eleven tracks and 31 minutes The Devil You Know, is just about long enough for today’s over-stimulated and restless music fans that don’t know how lucky they’ve got it and lands somewhere beyond the Nuggets-era trailblazers they have previously mined for inspiration, but short of Ill territory and still firmly on the American side of the pond, which means the band’s sixth record is more chaotic punk rock for fans of their visceral live shows, but with a new nuanced maturity and enough of their mainstay pop credentials to keep drawing in new listeners without alienating loyal fans. The Devil You Know signals something of a reawakening for the band as the writing process took a fully democratic process into something more communal.
The loose-stringed punk of ‘5 Farms’, where a cowbell announces the segues between chorus and verse, or the grungy deep-psyche of album standout ‘Crimson Telephone’ are moody and bass-heavy with a musical sophistication of a band now twelve years into their career and just hints of the silliness that lightly sprinkled previous records. ‘Hey Buddy’ is punchy rock and roll, the anti-9-to-5 outsider-anthem with vitriolic homophobe-baiting lyrics, while a lovely, skewed lighthouse metaphor on ‘Memories’ only thinly disguises the gritty urban drama that lurks beneath. That The Coathangers manage to hammer this all out with such a breezy disposition is no mean feat but there is no doubt this is still a sleazy late night album about outsiders, street punks and illicit rendezvous. ‘Stranger Danger’ transports us to an unspecified dalliance in the dark while the terrified echoes and screams in the background of ‘Step Back’ are like a haunted fairground after closing time. It’s an odd place where The Specials meets The Cure meets The Slits and epitomises the schizophrenic ease with which they bounce between bubblegum punk or melancholic L7-tinged grunge but occasionally land somewhere else entirely. The drug-raddled bliss of closer ‘Lithium’, the latest in a long line of odes to the grunge crutch evolves into a sparse, trippy lullaby auspiciously akin to Nirvana’s more serene moments. Elsewhere they successfully explore desolate new wave narratives that British bands like Hot Sauce Pony can only snatch at while the riffy, punk as fuck ‘F The NRA’ is self-explanatory with its well-aimed political rhetoric but also refreshing in its new found depth and dimension for a band at this stage of their career.
The Devil You Know is released on 8th March through Suicide Squeeze.