Street Sects have quickly become one of my favorite modern music acts. Forming in 2013, they released their two Gentrification EPs the following year. Two years later, we got their explosive debut LP, End Position. This record is nothing short of an incredible piece of industrial music, with all the intensity and passion one could want. Last year, they dropped Rat Jacket, for which I wrote a very positive review here. This EP took a smoother, more melodic approach to things, which I thought worked better for them. They’ve since put out a two-song EP and two splits, one with up-and-coming skramz act Portrayal of Guilt and the other with Curse. All of these songs showed a stronger artistic drive within Street Sects, especially the depressively gorgeous “Things Will Be Better in Hell.” It left me starving for new material. Back in August, they announced they would be releasing their sophomore full length The Kicking Mule, and the good people at The Flenser have provided us early access to the LP. I cannot thank them enough.
Rat Jacket showed that Street Sects weren’t going to be as intense or abrasive as on End Position. Each single between then and now has prepared listeners for a change in sound, finally realized here on The Kicking Mule, to a depressive post-punk approach. Street Sects has never been a very happy-go-lucky act, but things are different now. There are still elements from End Position, especially on the introduction track, “269 Soulmates,” which incorporates much of that projects harsh elements. However, we get some new melodic moments in the chorus. “Suicide by Cop” and “Still Between Lovers” straddle the line between End Position and Rat Jacket, but tracks like “Chasing the Vig” and even “Dial Down the Neon” shocked me in how much they differ from the previous works instrumentally while still doing their core sound justice.
One of the most noticeable adjustments to Street Sects sound is an increased guitar presence. It's especially gorgeous on “Birch Meadows, 1991,” mellow and somber, in keeping with this record’s atmosphere. It picks up speed on “Still Between Lovers,” but its mostly there to add more color to Street Sects’s industrial palette.
I’ve always loved Leo's vocals, and here is no exception: he is varied and passionate, his best work on “Everyone’s at Home Eventually” and “In for a World of Hurt.” His performance was the first thing I really enjoyed about the track when it dropped. “Before it Was Worn” explores his versatility as he builds from his more somber, post-punk style to harsher vocals that recall End Position.
The lyrics, to put it lightly, are super depressing. Street Sects’s are known to sit on the more fucked up side of things, but The Kicking Mule sees them burrow down to the depressing hopelessness that's always lurked behind Street Sects. “269 Soulmates” orders the listener to “Stick it in your vein and don’t think twice about it.” Addiction plays an even more prominent role on this record than ever before. “Everyone’s at Home Eventually” looks back on a life of alcoholism with tangible pain: “Up until I fell down on my fears/Fell down, for fifteen years/I know I wasted half my life drunk on doubt/and now I’ll do without.” Other tracks like “Suicide by Cop” are even blunter and purposely upsetting. See: “I used to think/I’d change your mind/I used to think/You’d save my life/I won’t be missed/I won’t be mourned.”
The LP climaxes with “The Drifter,” a gloomy, catchy, and melodic condensation of all The Kicking Mule does best. Instead of repeating the confrontational tone of End Position’s “If This What Passes for Living” or the epic post-punk of Rat Jackets “In Prison, At Least I Had You,” they opt for a more a straightforward electronic track. Leo sings of a man who’s come to the end of the road, confessing that he's “a worthless piece of shit” and pleading to be buried alive. And it just wouldn’t be a Street Sects record if they didn't include the perspective of a murderer in his final moments of life - in this case, content and unremorseful, even nostalgic, for his life of homicide: “I enjoyed those final moments/When the light would leave their eyes/I would do it all over again.”
If you got lucky with the preorders, you managed to score a copy of The Kicking Mule that comes with a short story Leo wrote to accompany the LP, titled “Black Plastic, White Sheep.” The story follows the protagonist of The Kicking Mule, a detective, and introduces two plot lines: one involving a case, and the other his family life. It's a good read and lends the record an even darker and more twisted context.
Once again, Street Sects stake their claim as one of the most interesting acts in modern music. Personally, I would’ve liked something a bit longer to flesh out the story, because it’s clear that Street Sects have both the musical skill and writing chops to craft a beautifully fucked-up story. The Kicking Mule drops October 26th on The Flenser, and it definitely should not escape your notice.
VERDICT: Street Sects progresses in a surprisingly post-punk direction with their latest ode to all things fucked-up and depressing, continuing to prove their worth as serious musicians.
- Alex Brown