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February 24, 2008

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In the world of hardcore punk there is nary a person so forward thinking as Dan Yemin. This thought applies to all aspects of his band Paint it Black: presentation, politics, and, as highlighted on New Lexicon, production. During an interview I held with Yemin, he pointed to hip-hop as an inspiration to keep things fresh and inventive, stating “The best underground MC's are pushing the limits way more than underground rock bands are pushing the boundaries in their respective genres.” Keeping that in mind, Yemin and crew recruited Oktopus, producer from the avant-garde hip-hop group Dälek, to add some sonic rendering and post-production nuances for an overall denser sound to songs already thick. Those fearing collaboration akin to the Judgment Night soundtrack worry not. This is a hardcore punk album. Period. But the sonic tinkering, as it's called in the liner notes, fills the spaces between the quaking bass and hi-hat crashes, giving the album an eerie feel, like a battlefield after the war, the settling of souls after an epoch of chaos. The overall atmosphere is unsettling, and for good reason. This record, like any essential hardcore punk album, is a reflection of the current state of affairs.

But it's the chaos that makes New Lexicon stand out against the endless crop of hardcore punk records released every month, so thoroughly channeled yet so volatile. The tempo of the songs range from slighter faster than mid-tempo to damn near blast beat, giving the feeling of instability. But every move is measured precisely The moment the songs start to sound safe and marketable, thanks to harmony vocals and elaborate melodies, they shift to pummeling rhythms sections, frenzied guitars, and changing tempos all inside the space of ninety seconds, redefining what both brevity and brutality can mean. The production is cleaner than most records for a band of this sound, but the instruments still sound raw and searing, enough to leave you wincing, holding your ears.

The lyrics are at their most dynamic, more cutting and unforgiving than anything shouted from Yemin's mouth. And who might be on the receiving end? Every oppressive force in the world today: commerce, religion, and worst of all, ourselves. Intertwined, these factors, among others, have stirred the American public into states of neuroses and obedience. As Yemin shouts on “White Kids Dying of Hunger,” “I won't sleep at all tonight. I'm not alright. And you're too fucking polite.” Organized religion takes a bulk of the hits, but they aren't an attack so much as they are a proclamation of secession. “Past Tense, Future Perfect” sums this up bluntly with the lyrics, “You said ?°»God's got it in for you. You're fucked,' but I don't believe in him” and “God can't touch us now; we're out of his jurisdiction.”

New Lexicon, like all the other Paint it Black releases, is another handful of songs that are intended to raise your awareness of the world around you, to take a more active stance in a life that is, very realistically, controlled by extrinsic influences. It asks questions we all need to hear. “What will it take to wake you up? What will it take to fucking shake you up?”