by Nick Hanover
In the two years since BLXPLTN released their debut Black Cop Down, the strife and division the band openly fought has only grown stronger, spilling out of communities white America does its best to isolate and ignore and straight into the White House, where we as a people have just placed our first white supremacist approved president. That president is actively pilloried all throughout the band’s exceptional follow-up album New York Fascist Week, starting with the cover art that has Trump sniffing the blood of his enemies, and while the band has been fighting hard against Trump since day one (complete with rolls of Trump stamped toilet paper thrown to crowds at shows), the album sounds less like a protest and more like a dire warning of the future we now face.
That’s partially because New York Fascist Week‘s long gestation has allowed the band to eschew specific topicality in favor of the larger truths about the culture we live in. If Black Cop Down was half revolutionary rhetoric and half uplifting exploration of the struggles of everyday life, New York Fascist Week is a complete manual for living under the New World Order, with explorations of federal failures we need to learn from (“FEMA”), blunt predictions of our eagerness to accept fascism (“Auf Wiedersehen”) and the growing militarization of operatives of the state (“Blood on the Sand,” “Gun Range”). That’s not to say the band has dropped their talent for hooks in order to make all out dirge music, it’s just that now they’ve found a way to replicate the equilibrium of still fresh classic “Start Fires” for the length of an entire album.
Credit is also due to producers Autry Fulbright and Elliott Frazier who have added a lot more color and room to this album than we heard on Black Cop Down. The primal scream and unorthodox guitar playing of former member Khattie Q is certainly missed, but Fulbright and Frazier have helped TasZ and Jonathan Horstmann make some of their more ambitious sonic dreams come true, with far more punch and vibrancy than the sometimes flat engineering of Black Cop Down allowed. “I’m Still Waiting,” for instance, splits the difference between the momentum and melody of “Gates of Steel” era Devo and Fugazi aggression, with a perfect balance of overdriven bass and filtered vocals.
“I’m Still Waiting” also happens to be sandwiched between two of the most unique sonic moments on the album. “FEMA” is perhaps the album’s strongest moment, showing off immense potential for BLXPLTN’s hybridization of sounds, mixing together elements of hip hop, avant electronica and industrial swagger. You can usually spot the influences BLXPLTN is painting with, but “FEMA” feels totally alien, a sound that literally could only have come from this band at this time. Likewise, “Gun Range” is brave new ground for the band, more fragile and somber, its closest kin being TV on the Radio, but even that’s not quite right. The haunting, spectral sounds filling out its chorus moments give it a cinematic vibe that gets flipped when the expected drop of the second chorus is excised in favor of a simple, unexpected steel drum synth line. The end result is one of BLXPLTN’s most somber and effective songs, proof that they’ve matured and evolved in innumerable ways since their start.
For all of its emotional strength, Black Cop Down was still a work of catharsis, an immediately understandable blast of non-verbal screams, simple hooks and aggro beats. But New York Fascist Week is pain in all its forms– physical and emotional punches to the gut, howling bursts of grief, broken fingers still reaching out to aggressors in one last attempt at understanding and unity. It says a lot that the album’s most brutal, heartwrenching moment doesn’t even come from one of its more ambitiously mixed and constructed numbers but from the simple electro-pop of “How Many Shots,” which conveys so much more with the combination of its frank title and repeated declaration that “You are not alone” than any number of essay length protest songs.
Though that song specifically details the aftermath of a phone call with the news of a gunned down loved one, its central sentiment, that no matter what happens now you won’t be without people who love you, is both the most important and most prophetic moment of an album that seemed fully aware of what the end of this year would bring despite its development beginning two years ago. BLXPLTN still know the value of righteous fury, though, so we’re gifted with the melodic singalong anthem “Auf Wiedersehen” and the burn it all down energy of “New York Fascist Week,” both instant classics.
Sophomore efforts from beloved, promising bands are always tricky so New York Fascist Week deserves no shortage of adoration for not only overcoming those expectations but far surpassing them and the debut album that preceded it. But beyond that, New York Fascist Week deserves attention for being a vital and reassuring release at an exceptionally dark and troubling time. If you’re looking for solace, for hope, for catharsis, for righteous fury, for love, respect, dignity, New York Fascist Week is the only album you need.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover