Taking on any band with a prolific output for the very first time can be an intimidating feat, which is why in this new segment we are dedicating time and research to provide beginners with something akin to a hitchhiker’s guide, necessary for greater rate of disassembly. Hopefully it pays off.
Our first subject of choice is Self Defense Family, a group who has, since their inception circa-2003, cultivated and shared an average of near four releases per year. What renders the task of sifting through their back catalogue all the more arduous, however, isn’t just the number of releases they’ve tallied to date; it’s the myriad of formats they appear on and places to source them.
You see, Self Defense isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill when it comes to functionality. Instead the band exhibits characteristics better associated with that of a collective, having had more than 20 collaborating members credited to its music and no one definitive line-up for more than a single album or tour at a time.
If you can imagine, then, with a sociable and tolerant bent regarding recruitment (the bands’ approach to moving forward has since been determined on the basis of whoever is available at the time), the acquaintances and, naturally, offers for endorsement and collaboration quickly stack up. In the case of Self Defense this has led, in time, to a canon now approximately 40 releases strong taking into account 5 studio albums, 13 EP’s/mini-LP’s, 6 singles (often not available on any wider offering) and 17 split recordings with other groups. Furthermore, if that wasn’t exhausting enough, these releases are spread across 3 official name changes for the band and rack together hosts of easily more than a dozen individual record labels.
See, I told you this guide was a good idea!
No band or artist, in any forum, should be blamed for touching base with a multiplicity of helping hands, however. For one, you can’t expect anybody to apologise for being too productive – that’s pure ludicrous. Secondly, if you do happen to be creating at a more-than-average rate, quick enough that you risk hours of material becoming backlogged otherwise, you should be seeking alternative outlets willing to put something out for you on the side, especially if the major is asking you to sit on it for a while whilst it readies the release cycle for a subsequent full-length.
Meanwhile, and as is categorically the case for Self Defense, you’re adding your reputable name to the print roster of a DIY start-up presumably having a torrid time hitherto getting its feet off the floor, whilst simultaneously strengthening your own interests. The outcomes speak for themselves. Surely, if anything, this type of activity is to be commended.
End Of A Year releases began surfacing as of 2004. Beginning with the demo cassette Warm, the initial documented recordings more-or-less featured iterations of songs that would wind up appearing on their first full-length album, Disappear Here. Whilst the groups’ style and sound didn’t alter too greatly over their formative years, it was their second album, 2007’s Sincerely, that first propelled them to anything of notable status.
Over their 12 year tenure as a band thus far, with all of the name-switching and musicians that have amounted to their output to date, you wouldn’t be too foolish for suggesting that surely much has changed from day one. And sure, on close inspection –as I’m gauging now – one will certainly identify numerous subtle, and sometimes huge, shifts in design as we pass through. What is admirable, however, is how much has stayed the same.
Most obvious is the core writing partnership of vocalist Patrick Kindlon and guitarist Andrew Duggan, who have been at the forefront of almost everything Self Defense-centred from just about the beginning. If you’re a musician, notably of the six-string kind, chances are you’ll pick up on a few of Duggan’s signature habits throughout the course of videos embedded alongside this article. Though for those not square or obtuse enough to recognise – or to care to for that matter – what will be in the least apparent is the “oh-my-god-there’s-smoke-filling-my-lungs!” squawking of Kindlon, who is a distinctive presence and focal point for the project. In fact, without his continuity in appearances on major releases (there is a small amount in which he does not feature, supposedly) it’s likely the impression at this stage would be different.
Sincerely introduced End Of A Year to the world as a probationary hybrid of Hardcore Punk and the more, dare I say it, Old-School Emo side of post-millennial Post-Hardcore. The majority of its contents displayed the former, placing fast, venomous guitars atop raw, and often cynical, chord formations. Much of it was deemed quintessential by anybody loyal to the cause, ‘The Browns’ and ‘Timeshares’ leading the better half of that debate. However it was those songs in the minority that captured the points of most interest, particularly when looking forward: ‘Above Ground Pools’, clocking almost double that in length of any other song on the album, revealed the groups’ closeted Post-Punk leanings through repetition and restrained dynamism, while ‘Midwest’ showcased an insight of their more sensitive tendencies.
These sidelines, in particular the greater stress on melody, became further realised on their third studio effort, 2010’s You Are Beneath Me. In retrospect, on contemplating the comparative wider picture, what separates the first two albums and that entire formative era from the rest of their discography is distance in the stylistic sense. Early material was more or less exclusively directed by a preference for sounds that evoked, above all else, juvenile angst and fragility. Now, more than half a decade in, the band was beginning to script ideas both diverse and stronger in confidence, paving the steps to their next transition.
An announcement on the groups’ (now seemingly defunct) Blogspot in August of 2010 ushered in the formal signs that an evolution of sorts was imminent. The post, titled The Value of Teamwork, confirmed that as of that very point End Of A Year was to be no more. Instead the group was, as Kindlon stressed, reformatting in order to dispose of the dangerous ideology that a band must forever be represented in one concrete form, or as a constant identity to others. To remove this fear that they may otherwise, through subconsciously working to the expectations of its listeners, fall to a peril outside of their control, the band sought to lay the groundwork for some serious changes.
Most prominent, of course, would be the name and, with it, the ethos of the group. From then on the band would exist as a collective with many members sharing part-time status, being leaned on for any contributions or commitments dependent on whether their input was available or in demand at the time. The name, following an interim period of both old and new oddly sandwiched together, presumably to enable it to sink in with followers, would eventually become ‘Self Defense Family’. With the post the band also shared a series of previously recorded material featuring the voice of Caroline Corrigan in place of Kindlon. Corrigan continues to feature on many SDF releases, most recognisably the 2014 EP Duets.
Following a 3-song EP – jovially titled More Songs about Transportation and Intercourse – being made available on the Hex label in 2010, it became clear the band was also committed to the idea of a stylistic change, too. Not only did the release derive its name from an interpolation of a popular Talking Heads (seminal Nu Wave/Post Punk group) record, it featured a whimsical, semi-spoof cover version of their song ‘Wild Wild Life’ tailed to the end.
The band cemented this fresh direction with their following single, ‘I Heard Crime Gets You Off’. Populated by a driving, pseudo-punctual rhythm section and single string guitar riffs over its 2 short minutes, the song echoes the sensibilities of Proto-Punk. What’s more it also somehow manages to find a small pocket of space to employ an example of Self Defense’s early bouts of experimentalism: in this case recognise the monotone male vocal sample that’s imposed over the chorus, a first for the band.
To anybody with the intention of squeezing a band and their efforts into a box for labelling purposes – which, in many ways, is the figurative equivalent of nonsensically plucking the wings from a rare bird of prey – Self Defense’s music tends to list as Experimental Post-Hardcore in most circles. As lamentable as generalisation of that ilk is, simply conditioning an explanation of any bands’ music with the title “experimental” tends also to translate to “ah crap, I can’t seem to fit them into that box after all”. Funny that.
What bestowed that credential upon their name, however, is likely a result of the sheer rate with which the project’s music reinvented and subsequently evolved across no more than two years and 3 short releases; by the time 2011’s and 2012’s first island-themed singles surfaced Kindlon and co. had reappeared anew yet again, confirming the notion that as Self Defense the band was truly an autonomous force. New songs also showed a far more conscious, thoughtful and creative musicianship at play, with greater stress on variety, space and – wait for it – experimentation.
Whilst releases from this period probably most closely resemble the general sound and identity we tend to associate with the Self Defense name today, they remain a band that continues to defy expectation. Simply put, where most projects might have one formula to tamper with between album cycles, Self Defense have multiple. It would make sense, then, that as a band with an appetite to try many things – not omitting every nuance in between – that separate releases be utilised not only to compartmentalise each experiment, but to protect the art and concept they each express.
2013 EP The Corrections Officer in Me, for example, picked up where ‘I Heard Crimes…’ left off two years prior, revisiting a similarly forward yet compromising Post-Punk aesthetic. This same cycle has come to season once more this past year with the release of Colicky, whilst subsequent and latest EP The Power Does Not Work in the Presence of Non-Believers pushes further again, embarking into territories of Slowcore and minimalist Proto-Punk, the latter resembling pioneers Suicide.
This notion of conscious artistic arrangement, however, isn’t just restricted to musical endeavours: on occasion it self-suffices via subjects, too, and more seldom, exclusively. A heavy handful of topics populate Kindlon’s vernacular; common more than most are anecdotes or ideas on the toxicity of matters such as relativity, sex, mankind, self-loathing and religion. And while these themes make up the majority of individual songs, in certain instances they dictate entire albums.
You Are Beneath Me cast the first obvious stone here, with each song dedicated to an individual not just by title, but by loose affiliation through the lyrics themselves; Try Me, though easily Self Defense’s most inconsistent record stylistically, still maintained a palpable coherence purely due to its underlying sinister themes of sex and masochism, made even more obvious with a second half bookended by lengthy abstract recounts from ex-pornographic film star, Angelique Bernstein; and Colicky, as confirmed by Kindlon in interviews, is inspired almost entirely by rough revelations taken from a recent personal relationship.
Amongst all of the fleeting reflections you may notice a common thread: thoughts. Appearing continuously in numerous lyrical motifs, they take on many forms – often, and unsurprisingly, troubling – such as “nagging”, “dark” and “desperate”, and clearly determine, or drive, much of what Kindlon has to say. Taking the bigger picture into account, a habit for over-thinking might also provide some kind of explanation for the many stylistic vessels the band has inhibited across the past 12 years. This is a man’s life’s work after all, capturing a journey of experience and projecting each obstacle, or recollection, atop a sound palette of the most kindred association.
Where did you best relate?