The intentions behind Hawaiian T-Shirt’s eponymous new EP are made clear in simple language on their Bandcamp page. This is music “to maybe dance and punch people to and maybe laugh or cry,” covering all the necessary emotional bases: excitement, anger, happiness, sadness. The most important word repeated in that description, though, is “maybe” because it communicates the tension and anxiety that lurks behind the facade of every Hawaiian T-Shirt track. This is angry music, yes, but it’s angry music full of nervous energy, looking for an outlet and a direction but aroused by the wide open possibilities of being directionless, of the potential in the silence that follows explosions.
Based out of LA, Hawaiian T-Shirt have more in common with quarantined weirdness happening in Athens, Georgia in the late ’70s than anything in the post-Smell metropolis. Though Delta 5/Gang of Four disco punk is the first thing you hear when the EP starts, it doesn’t really begin until some B-52s hoots pop up out of that dance party tantrum. And not coincidentally, “Degradation” closes the EP out with some Pylon-like noise paradoxes, the bass and drums attempting to make your hips thrust while the guitar and vocals want to stab your ears and disrupt any ecstasy you were building towards.
But let’s be clear: Hawaiian T-Shirt are not stodgy sonic academics. They do not care about the deep corners of your vinyl collection. That they sound like bands now coveted by DFA investors isn’t because they’re aiming to revive that sound but because they’re reacting to a similar environment with similar tools. And their deviations from those accidental ancestors are just as important to defining their sound.
“Casting Shadows Beneath Your Feet” in particular stands out as the group’s most LA moment, mixing the impolite thrust and snarling melodies of early L7 with the haze of the Paisley Underground. The song sounds like the comedown for a warehouse party, a soundtrack for sweaty bodies so exhausted they struggle to keep themselves up but can’t stop themselves from moving. The aforementioned “Chantelle” is equally mesmerizing but for different reasons, the music coming in fits and starts as the lyrics detail a scene crush, the titular Chantelle who stands out as “the best” because of her fearless fashion and focus on doing whatever the fuck she wants. It’s an unapologetic exploration of the superficial, of desiring what you cannot have or be.
That yearning feeling doesn’t get mentioned in the band’s self-description but it’s as omnipresent as any of the band’s other impulses. You feel it in “Heteronormative,” as the verses have the whole band reaching beyond their means before the chorus kicks in and they land on triumphant notes that sound more correct in their off-kilter tones than any perfectly crafted big pop hook could ever be. I can’t make out the words there, no matter how hard I try– except for the long, gloriously mutating expulsion of the title– but I grasp the feeling it’s detailing nonetheless. And right now, in this time where I flit between wanting to dance and punch and laugh and cry all at once, that incomprehensible explosion of emotion says more to me than any beautifully rendered, crystal clear lyric could ever hope to.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover