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Album Review: Abolitionist – “The Instant”


It took longer for me to get Abolitionist than I like to admit. I remember eyeing the Portland area as a potential home, years before I was even close to taking the plunge. In preparation, I listened to every Portland punk band I could find. A part of me wanted to be convinced, and of course, a part of me wanted new music. I found a lot of cool bands, but something about Abolitionist just didn’t stick to me. Back in those days, they had a pop punk tag on bandcamp and I can’t help but think of myself, back then, straining to hear how Abolitionist would’ve sat alongside Teenage Bottlerocket, Off With Their Heads, or Direct Hit! It wasn’t really that melodic, but it was aggressive, had cool art, and was supposed to sell me on a city I kinda-sorta was seeing myself in down the road. But back then—I just didn’t get it.

Well, flash forward. I live in Vancouver, WA, a bridge away from Abolitionists’ hometown and I’m armed with a lot more knowledge and taste. Since then, I’ve recognized that pop punk tag as an influence, not an iron-barred cage, and I’ve expanded my listening experiences enough to place them in a different, and altogether more punk tradition. It took their last EP to open my eyes, and when I finally saw them for what they are (rather than what the bandcamp tag sold them as), I saw Abolitionist as the torchbearers of the Revolution Summer—that glorious and exciting period of punk rock when DC hardcore started to stretch its legs and experiment with both confessional lyrics, slowed down jams, and melody—outrightly rejecting macho posturing and violence. When I hear Abolitionist now, I hear Dag Nasty, One Last Wish, Rites of Spring, and Fuel, but their innovation is in taking the rawness and musical melody of the aforementioned while laser-focusing their lyrics through a political and narrative lens.

The Instant follows in this vein, and of course, it’s a concept album tightly woven around it’s theme—one day, the people of the world wake up, and they suddenly give a shit. The concept itself is simultaneously cynical, hopeful, and absurd, but Abolitionist explore it thoroughly, with twists and turns galore. Better still though, even as committed as it is to its storytelling, the album never becomes bloated. The songs are short and declarative and the whole album clocks in at a breezy twenty-three minutes.

The reason the Revolution Summer comparison rings so loud for me is in the fundamentals of Abolitionists’ approach to music. “A Little Animal Liberation Never Hurt Anybody” is a good example of their sonic palette. A soaring, hopeful guitar melody leads into a power chord progression marked with lyrics like, “Burned down the factories, freed the slaves. Changed our diet, changed our ways.” Abolitionist sounds like a band using the hardcore framework, but adapting it to their taste. Their vocals are barked, sometimes with a sense of muted melody, but look no further than the bands that formed the basis for post-hardcore to see another group stretching under the confines of punk’s most restrictive style. Another comparison, especially in regards to “A Little Animal Liberation…” is Paint It Black, whose song “Invisible” similarly uses a big major guitar melody to create a sense of triumph in a dark world, a merging of music and lyrics never explored in straight hardcore beyond the default of aggression.

But, as this is a narrative album, there are highs and lows. “Backlash” is a gang-vocaled stomper, and probably the closest to a straightforward hardcore punk song on the album, as well as the shortest song on the album. The final track, “The Lonesome Death,” feels complacent in comparison—a jaunty, but broken record of the album’s final downbeat note, mimicking the lyrical bent with subtle precision. “We live in a veritable utopia!” is The Instant’s last line and it is both a claim, a question, and a critique.  

The Instant is an incredibly concise album. In fact, I would consider it a unique counterpoint to longer concept albums like David Comes to Life and The Monitor, which is not to say that those albums are any worse, but that they adapted punk rock to the world of the rock opera, where Abolitionist has adapted the rock opera to punk rock—cutting down it’s run time, zeroing in on it’s focus, and fitting it to the meter of loud and fast. The DC influence on the album allows the band to play with melody without succumbing to it entirely—and in confluence with its run-time makes for an experience that is as urgent and engaging as its message.

 

4/5



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