Smile Politely

Review: Leonard Hatred’s Kakapo Kaczynski / Teenage Ghosts’ Dreams

Punk has always been an inherently precise genre, with short songs and innumerable cult acts that only existed for sixth months (your cousin probably saw them in a basement back in ’98, when punk was real). This maxim holds no less true for Champaign-Urbana. Leonard Hatred played their first show in December and their last show two weeks ago. Teenage Ghosts have only ever played one show. Now, with Brendan O’Connor (founding member / guitarist of both bands) moving to England, this chapter is closed, but there’s some audio evidence left behind in the form of a Teenage Ghosts cassette and a Leonard Hatred CDR EP.

Leonard Hatred offers an interesting study because it differs so significantly from most local and midwestern punk. With hardcore influence toned down, the focus of Kakapo Kaczynski turns from force to groove, leading to a snarling, obtuse chug, demonstrated best on “Angel-Headed Hipster”, streaming below. The EP works best on the whole as a focused blast, sticking fairly closely to the band’s standard live setlist.

The band’s other project, Teenage Ghosts, which features O’Connor on guitar and Leonard Hatred vocalist Chris Wahlfeldt on drums, draws heavily from British groups such as Ride and Swervedriver. The four-track Dreams EP is a curious study in displacement; what happens when you take a musician from England (O’Connor spent the year in Champaign on exchange from Leeds University) and plop him down in the middle of a scene with an established and well defined sound? This isn’t to say that the two EPs are going to sound totally foreign to the average listener (there’s definite influence from Glifted on Dreams, for example), but they do offer a lesson in the benefits of having fresh perspectives and ideas. A year ago, I would never have thought a straight-up shoegaze group would be playing house shows, or that groove-metal would make a comeback.

And, it comes on one of those fancy cassette tapes! From a packing standpoint, I love tapes. They give you a physicality that goes way beyond vinyl or CD. Don’t worry, there’s a digital download too.

Dreams opens with what is clearly one of the best songs to come out Champaign-Urbana this year, the seven minute long “Witch” (streaming below). Disembodied voice, buzzsaw guitars and deep bass hynotically cycle over a booming drumbeat. The EP continues on over two ambient tracks (“Deja Vu” and “Jamais Vu”) and one uptempo rocker entitled “The Horrors We’ve Seen”, on which the band members’ punk influence shows through most clearly. Recorded at Morgan Orion’s Auricle Studios (he also provides backing vocals on “Witch”), Dreams is a clean, punchy counterpart to the fuzz and intentional lo-fi qualities on Kakapo Kaczynski — not to say that’s a bad thing. In fact, the only complaint I can reasonably level is that both EPs are just too damn short, clocking in at just over 35 minutes together. It seems a shame for a band that’s been as vital as Leonard Hatred to have their legacy reduced to eight songs / sixteen minutes.

Dreams is no longer available on cassette, but is up for free download here. The Leonard Hatred EP will be made available in physical form in the coming weeks (most likely at Exile or Parasol), and you can stream two tracks here.

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