[sic] Magazine

Claw Marks – Hee Hee

There’s a neat quote in the press release for Claw Marks‘ long-awaited debut album Hee Hee. Gruff frontman Jack Lantern first, rightly, points out that “There are so many songs about falling in and out of love” and that “For the most part, these songs are boring.” The London quintet’s eyes on the gutters rather than the stars, he continues: “There is so much strangeness that seethes just beneath the surface – literally with fatbergs in sewers and figuratively within the depraved madhouses of our own heads. Why not speak of that?” In a nutshell, this is Claw Marks. Just because they can, they do. There’s no consideration at any point if they should. And, while their sludgy punk initially sounds the part – grimy and absurdist in equal measure – it somehow doesn’t always quite feel authentic. How the band formed may go some way to explaining this sense of unease.

Existing in live form since 2013, four of the five band members (including members now of Insecure Men, Human Hair and others) came together after playing SXSW with other bands when they collectively realised they wanted to do something “more fun and weirder than many of the bands” at the festival. Perhaps therefore trying to be something he’s intrinsically not, Lantern’s divisive hoary rasp of a vocal consequently doesn’t quite fit with the leaden blues-punk on offer. The guitars are occasionally plain ugly too, and not in a good way.

A musical 10-pinter then, Claw Marks more pleasingly nod to Pissed Jeans and a number of other Sub Pop acts, so too the snarling sludge of someone like Clockcleaner, but they often lack the charm that goes with these acts. Perhaps failing also to catch the fervour of the band’s much-vaunted live show, there’s a probably accidental sense of high-camp psychobilly blackness to proceedings to boot and it all leaves you with the impression that Claw Marks may just be taking the piss and that you’re simply on the wrong end of an inside joke. If they are having us all on though, then their game is one hell of a long con.

Mercifully it’s not all bad news though. There’s some Melvins and Misfits in the DNA here too. Political anger is present and correct too even though you can’t always discern it from treacly tempos and crusty vocal. And, from the wryness of Lantern’s delivery, you can tell why the band have reputedly caught the ear of Ian Svenonius (particularly in his latter-day incarnations) as well. Plus, there are genuine highlights too, just not enough of them. On a dialled-down track like “Swallow U”, decent punk barbs do land squarely enough to do some damage and when the band’s pyroclastic flow of heavy materials does get moving in the right direction it’s pretty hard to not be consumed by it such as on the feedback-toasted “Magic Trick”. There’s scope and vision enough to pull from a wider tableau as well. “The Rain”, for example, draws from 60s psych and classic rock on top of its chaotic noise, while the out-of-nowhere desert-rocker “Horrible Mess” is a change of pace even at these speeds, its windblown twangs and whisky swilling kicking up a surprisingly dusty murder ballad. Yet, despite this, for all its claims to strangeness, Hee Hee just isn’t strange enough to set it apart.

Best track: “Magic Trick”

~Hee Hee is released 17th August 2018 via PNKSLM.~