ometimes simplicity is best. With a recent flux of overall complexity in modern music, the listener is all but required to carry a thesaurus and notepad to keep up with the ever-changing song structures and themes. Coming in at 14 songs in 26 minutes, Cloak/Dagger’s first full length for Jade Tree is a snide middle finger to this formula replacing the complexity with an energy that can’t be ignored. Combining aspects of Black Flag and Drive Like Jehu, We Are is a stylish modern punk album retrofitted with the best aspects of the influential 80’s hardcore scene it pays homage to.
From the opening track to the finals seconds, Cloak/Dagger never let up the pace or the intensity, skipping the intention to envelop the listener and instead opting to smack them over the head and smother them in double time beats and power chords. “Bended Knee” starts the album and sets the pace. The track is a fast two-minute blast full of rollicking snare rolls and vocalist Jason Mazzola at the helm raising the intensity through his lazy swagger that suits the music perfectly. Jason’s rapid-fire vocal delivery is noticeably similar to classic 80’s hardcore bands but with a modern take that at times can (strangely enough) resemble early Every Time I Die in delivery. Jason and the band rarely stray from the same balls to the wall formula, but when that formula is this catchy, why would they? “Kamikazes” sounds if it takes some inspiration from early surf rock with Colin Barth’s fuzzy reverb laced tone crashing over bassist Aaron Barth’s bouncy bass lines. The brothers Barth lock into a groove rarely heard in this genre of music and continue to do so for the remainder of the album.
With tons of bands doing the throwback hardcore thing, it’s good to see one that is actually believable. We Are carries a sincerity that is hard to deny. When listening to the low-fi production, you can tell that the album hasn’t been written as a shtick but one that was written by a band that actually is making their way through basement shows playing to droves of eager listeners. It’s difficult to listen to “Red Hair” and not picture fans singing along and dancing like in those old black and white photos of early hardcore shows. No track breaks the three-minute mark, nor does it need to to get the message across. We Are cuts the fat leaving only the strongest aspects of the band’s sound. This could be a problem for those used to 7-minute mini epics, but the bite-sized songs are a perfect way to satisfy your punk rock craving.
If you are looking to get into early hardcore but feel a little out of touch due to its prime being 20 years ago, then this album might be a good updated transition to whet your appetite. It’s a modern take on a retro style that is new enough to please the new generation yet retains enough style from its predecessors to please fans of the old. If you are a fan of buttery smooth production and Pro-Tools laced vocals, you might want to look elsewhere. We Are is dirty. It’s sloppy and raucous. It’s fast and raw. But with Cloak/Dagger, I wouldn’t want it any other way.