The root of all great punk rock is dissatisfaction, frustration, or even anger, but when done right, its end product is joy. Take an album like The Clash’s 1977 debut album, whose songs still froth with bile after more than four decades, but still feel like a celebration in spite of that. Or Fucked Up’s complex meditations on existence on The Chemistry of Common Life, which is loaded with enough energy and forward momentum to compel anyone to Kool-Aid Man through a brickwall.
Melbourne, Australia punk trio CLAMM are particularly adept at finding the right balance between middle-fingers-out diatribes against systems that grind us down and the right combination of power chords—and occasional eruptions of wailing saxophone—to create something that feels good in spite of the grievances that fuel it. On “Scheme,” the leadoff track from their second album Care, the group is firing on all cylinders within the first 30 seconds, headed on a crash course to poke holes in the facade of a capitalist nightmare. But as Jack Summers sneers about the “forty-hour crawl,” he reserves some of his venom for a complacent society: “And the people outside they don’t care about nothin’/It’s just a big scheme.”
There’s a lot of anger and anxiety to go around on Care, aimed at everything from the trauma of information of overload on “Bit Much” (“It can be a bit much!“) to a society that prizes profit over people on “Buy” (“And meanwhile we’re worried about COVID/And meanwhile, we’re all meant to get on with this shit and buy, buy, buy“). These aren’t even particularly subversive messages, really—everyone who isn’t a CEO feels it. But the payoff to each of Summers’ end-of-his-rope diatribes is immense, whether it comes in the form of a dense noise-rock strata on “Incompetence,” a one-minute punk rock cannonball on “Global,” a skronky no-wave shoegaze noir on “Something New,” or the scratchy stomp of the title track. These are songs that are meant to be played loud for the sake of maximizing every shout-along opportunity.
CLAMM grapple with uncomfortable things throughout Care, many of which tie back to mental health taking a hit every time civilization creeps ever closer to full-blown dystopia. And in response, the group offers a purge of similarly uncomfortable sounds and textures, feedback and atonal saxophone, aggressive barks and heaps of distortion. But sometimes that’s the best therapy there is.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.