In the last 40 years the term “punk” has come to mean many things to many people. For some it describes the movement that originated in the 70’s with bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, whose stripped down, hard-edged sound railed against the excesses of what rock had become in the 70’s. For others “punk” describes the wave of so-called pop-punk bands like Bad Religion, The Descendants, and the Dead Milkmen that came to prominence in the 80’s while the “New Wave” ruled the air. Still others recognize the louder, more aggressive form of punk music known as “hardcore” that originated with the likes of Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Minor Threat. No matter where you stand on the spectrum, the simple truth is that punk music never went away. Punk has been here all along and if we know where to look – like with bands such as Austin’s Zlam Dunk – there is still a metric ton of great punk music being produced right under our noses.
Balcones marks the second release from Austin’s post-punk, math rock, indie-dance power house Zlam Dunk. This seven-track EP does more than just take off where 2010’s Noble Ancestry LP left off; it sees this group both refining and expanding their sound in ways that I can only describe as epic. For the uninitiated, Zlam Dunk can best be described as dance music for hardcore kids. The combination of driving beats, frenetic picking, and potent lyrics create a sound that recalls the mathy, but danceable compositions of Q and Not U and Fang Island, with the edge and lyrical drive of bands like Fugazi and Texas’s own At The Drive-In.
With their second release, Zlam Dunk really seems to have matured as a band. The lyrics on Balcones feel much more refined than those on their debut. Even songs like “British Teeth,” with its boy-meets-girl theme, possess a certain poetry and sincerity that I feel goes a step beyond what’s on display on Noble Ancestry. As with many post-debut EPs, there seems to be something transitional about this release. For example, the synth that was so prevalent on their debut takes a back seat to the rest of the band on Balcones. But while the overall tone of the album is less playful and more anthemic, there is still a certain danceable quality to this release that begs listeners to get up and move. Both Balcones and Noble Ancestry are available for purchase on Zlam Dunk’s bandcamp page and as an introduction to this side of Austin’s punk scene I can’t think of a better place to start.
Zlam Dunk are playing tonight at the Beauty Ballroom with Boyfrndz, Goldspine and Searcher. Go check them out to hear Balcones and Noble Ancestry tunes come alive.