Militarie Gun is post-hardcore, not by virtue of playing by the agreed-upon rules of genre but because it literally took shape after Ian Shelton had built up momentum with his hardcore project, Regional Justice Center, only to have to hit the brakes during 2020’s live music shutdown. The resulting period found him retreating into marathon songwriting sessions, the likes of which produced songs more grounded in pop melodies and radio-friendly hooks. “I went to the practice space every single day, writing and demoing for at least four hours,” he said in 2021. “It became the only thing I had going in my life.”
What began as a necessary therapeutic outlet built up steam quickly, finding an audience in listeners with an ear for bright pop melodies and hardcore’s muscle alike. Since 2020, Militarie Gun—which has since expanded to a five-piece band—released the two acclaimed, companion All Roads Lead to the Gun EPs, as well as an infectious collaborative single with dazy, the spindly, baggy groove of “Pressure Cooker.” All of which reinforced Shelton’s strengths as pop songwriter, a skill he’s sharpened with 12 of Militarie Gun’s most magnetic anthems to date on their debut full-length album, Life Under the Gun.
The songs on Life Under the Gun are pop songs first and foremost, radiating with pristine production and huge guitars, and the kinds of soaring choruses that belong on a shuffle between Smashing Pumpkins and Suede. But the band’s roots are still clearly showing through two-minute stompers like leadoff track “Do It Faster,” who nimbly makes the transition between melodic singing and a visceral grunt on lines like “I don’t see why it’s up to me/Why I gotta be your – STOOGE!” (Shelton also let’s out a recurring “ooh-OOH!” throughout the album that’s something of a signature—and it’s hard not to grin every time it happens.) There’s more than a little aggression bubbling up to the surface on the raucous “Think Less” and the arena-sized closing title track, but more often than not, the band opts for immediacy over intensity, whether delivering Britpop-sized hooks on “Very High” or “Never Fucked Up Once,” or stripping away the guitars altogether on the Mellotron lullaby “See You Around.” The moments in which big, chunky guitars aren’t front and center are rare, but the band find a lot of versatility in what might ordinarily seem like a blunt-force object.
For all the Gallagher-brothers-sized hooks on Life Under the Gun, Shelton is less concerned with living forever than simply just making it through the day. The jangly, powerful “My Friends Are Having a Hard Time” revels not in misery’s love of company, as Shelton attempts to get a handle on his own emotions: “I haven’t cried a day in my life, or I, I cry all the time.” And in “Very High,” there’s a struggle to find a healthier outlet for those wounded feelings, with its chorus of “I’ve been feeling pretty down, so I get very high.” But amid the setbacks, there’s a sense that every pit of despair can be crawled out of, and you can punch a hole through every dead end; “the truth can change!” barks Shelton in the title track, a reminder not to resign yourself to fate.
It’s also hard to feel bad throughout Life Under the Gun‘s 29 minutes. There’s joy and freedom in these 12 songs, much as there was in so many of the most angst-ridden alt-rock anthems of the ’90s—many of the creators of which were likewise influenced in large part by hardcore. Back in 2021, Shelton sang “When it ceases being fun, run,” on the title track to All Roads Lead to the Gun, that could have easily applied to any number of circumstances, not the least of them a career spent playing music. Life Under the Gun seems to suggest that the fun is just beginning.
Label: Loma Vista
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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.