Hank IV

When listening to Hank IV, I’m brutally reminded that youth is most certainly wasted on the young. For the San Francisco quintet, the coalescence of Hank IV is perhaps the last stop on a long, arduous journey through almost three decades of punk evolution, beginning most notably in 1983 with Bum Kon. To say that at the end of this trip, which has also included a lineage of bands like Icky Boyfriends, Duh, and the Resineators (remember that Silt release?), that they’ve aged gracefully and learned from the experience would be a falsity. Though they’ve become more formidable in their riffage over that time—with a skuzzy, round-the-block barrage of twin guitars and barked euphemisms about prescriptions and subscriptions—it doesn’t make the end result any less littered and lewd. I’ve often thought of Hank IV as an anomaly on a label usually concerned with the grotesque and obscure, but with III (ahem, their third record), it’s telling why Tom Lax has always trusted these guys with his coat of arms. They sound like groups that eschew pretentiousness in favor of classicisms, volume and simple “fuck yeahs.” They sound like a group who could play a string of shows to intellectuals and punch-drunk cavemen with equal aplomb. They sound like a group who will always have your back, even when their sound is something Brooklyn might find out of vogue. Even if I wouldn’t classify what they do as pub-rock, they could always find a bar that would be accepting of their fortitude.

III begins with “Garbage Star,” about as close to a hit as you’ll find in the Hank IV legacy. Bob McDonald is the one barking, writhing in piss and vinegar while his band explores the Thin Lizzy–tested interplay between two continually twisted six-stringed ascensions. To me the band has always been a cross between the Dead Kennedys and Steppenwolf. The album’s euphoric and ballsy, no experiments, yet no reminiscing. Were they to play this in 1983, it probably would have been mistaken for pop. “Down in the Dumps” is another dissertation on how lame punk has really become. They present their wares in gang chants and end the second consecutive song about waste with a quick bluesy jam, half-smirking with the know-how for poking at the listener’s guilty pleasures. Those solos continue throughout, popping up in various spots not to magnify the band’s virtuosity, but to prove they too can be blasted, blown-out and outrageous when it counts. There’s camaraderie in their old-age, evident in songs like “Patient Zero,” where McDonald takes a seat to make room for Anthony Bedard’s cynical aloofness. His tough-luck lament is more rollicking foil to the following spitfire velocity of “SFU,” easily a favorite and maybe the punkest cut on III. Then again, Hank IV might be fooling with all of us, having a laugh in the beer room, and making odd decisions that include using a sinking ship as cover art and tackling a Stereolab song—here make a driving mass out of “The Noise of Carpet”—to baffle anyone looking to define what they do. Really, it’s only rock music, something oldies must learn in the twilight years. Living by that creed makes one appreciate bands like Hank IV and explains Siltbreeze releases like Mount Carmel. There’s never been a need to over-think a thing like this—once you come to that realization, life gets much easier.
Kevin J. Elliott