Performative Guilt by Self Defense FamilyRelease date: April 19, 2019
Label: 6131 Records
Self Defense Family have been functioning as a post-punk/post-hardcore ‘collective’ of ten-plus members spread across the US and UK for 16 years now, having been known as End of a Year up until late 2010. The band are known for writing songs about public figures who have become embroiled in infamy and/or controversies, not least on their 2014 album Try Me, which dealt with the frequently poignant life story of 1980s pornographic film star Jeanna Fine. On this four-song EP, however, the band turn to their own life experiences and write about people who they’ve known who have died over the years.
Opener ‘Rest in Peace for the Error Shall Not Be Repeated’ is a mid-paced song that features an enjoyable La Dispute-esque lead guitar sound, over which lead vocalist Patrick Kindlon sadly intones: “some of the kids from high school don’t make it deep into adulthood … they die on foreign shores”. Whether or not this is an oblique reference to the wars of the Bush era is unclear, but Kindlon sounds sadder about this than he did at any point on the last album by his other band of note, Drug Church. The next song, ‘Awaiting Acknowledgement’, is sadder still, as he sings about the narrator having “lost a friend” rather than someone with whom they just happened to be in the same English class. Over melodic guitar lines that are similar to those of the opener, he sings that this friend was “odd among the odd ones, a jock of quiet moments, and then sombre outcomes”.
‘Future Girls’ is much slower in pace and concerns a now deceased girl named Jill, whose relationship to the narrator and cause of death aren’t entirely clear, but who apparently knew them through the local live music scene and “was running in those circles of those friends who die in shifts”. However, the narrator goes on to admit that while they’d like to be able to say they “could’ve helped” if only they’d had the courage to speak up about Jill’s self-destructive behaviour at the time, in reality, they have to admit that anything they could have said would have had little to no effect. The slow, chiming ‘Don’t Wait to Be Murdered to Defend Yourself’ closes Performative Guilt with meta-commentary about how difficult the process of writing songs about “dead kids and dead young adults” can be, noting that it is fraught with opportunities to come across as insincere.
This EP sees Self Defense Family successfully jettisoning the irony and sardonicism that characterised some of their earlier work in favour of a far more personal and confessional songwriting style. Whilst the music doesn’t make a huge stylistic leap from the ‘post-post-hardcore’ of their last album, 2018’s Have You Considered Punk Music, it is nevertheless well executed and pretty enjoyable to listen to. It also to some extent forges new thematic ground in as much as it deals with deaths of band members’ liked ones, rather than the loved ones that are more commonly mourned on records of a personal nature (e.g. 2016’s Stage Four from sometime SDF collaborators Touché Amoré). Performative Guilt is highly listenable and gloomy, whilst managing to stay just the right side of maudlin.