Veteran California punks Lagwagon have always been on the forefront of their genre. Not content with four chord noise, they have pioneered a complex sound, filled with technical brilliance and on their new LP, Hang, they demonstrate again that there is a great deal of power left in their musical armoury.
Since the release of their last full length album, 2005’s Resolve, the band have experienced great change. Their beloved home state of California has been hit by environmental and economic crisis. And their dear friend Tony Sly, front man of punk outfit No Use For A Name, died suddenly in 2012. Disturbing developments have clearly made a deep impact on Lagwagon and Hang is built upon treacherous foundations of uncertainty, anger and remorse.
Album opener ‘Burden Of Proof’ sees vocalist Joey Cape accompanied only by acoustic guitar. Mournful, he sets the tone for the album. Cape’s solo touring and recording, often in collaboration with Sly, as well as side projects such as Bad Astronaut have had an effect on Lagwagon’s sound. But when ‘Reign’ kicks through the teary mist with a thrashing drum beat and guitars, we are reminded that this is very much a punk album.
Guitarists Chris Flippin and Chris Rest exchange chugging, meaty riffs on ‘Made Of Broken Parts‘ and ‘The Cog In The Machine‘ before searing solos take over, increasing the pace on ‘Poison In the Well’. Bassist Joe Raposo takes centre stage on the intro to ‘Obsolete Absolute’, as droning guitars swarm around him, building an incredible intensity over two minutes. With no warning, a punching drum roll from Dave Raun leads a three minute punk frenzy before Lagwagon demonstrate their remarkable understanding and stop, mid beat, their audience still swirling in the sweaty thrall of the mosh.
‘One More Song’ is a heartfelt dedication to Sly. Filled with anguish, regret and survivor’s guilt, Cape confesses “We always long for one more song” and the deep sadness and sense of loss felt across the punk family comes clearly into focus.
Cape has always been a champion of progressive ideals, yet concern about the impact of technology and social media dominate the lyrics on ‘You Know Me’, displaying his growing anxiety. “My children will have to teach me/And I won’t know them at all” he sings, a nervousness about the future growing as he approaches his fifties. Finally, the curtain is torn down on album closer ‘In Your Wake’ as a final, mass chorus builds into a pulverising punk outro.
Lagwagon are a magnificent band who have produced a sensational LP, demonstrating just how relevant they still are, twenty two years since the release of debut Duh. Brilliant musicianship takes the punk template to levels of excitement and intensity that few others can match, whilst unpredictable twists and turns mark every song. If you love the band, or if you’ve never heard them before, rush out and buy this record. Hang fully deserves to be counted as one of the great albums of recent times.