Review: Propagandhi, Potemkin City Limits (Fat Wreck Chords, 2005)

When I was 16 or 17 years old I discovered a little Canadian punk band called Propagandhi and loved every minute of their masterful metallic "pop-punk" mayhem (read: "progressive thrash", if you're a Propagandhi fan). So here I am 11 or 12 years later and this is the first time I've ever slacked off and waited more than 24 hours to buy their new record - their first after an unacceptably long four-year wait. Oh, and allegedly their first to include "new frontman" Glen Lambert, gun-toting lover of red terry-cloth housecoats and alleged former hockey player in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's own Portage Terriers, who "replaces" former riffmaster general and bringer of garrulously loquacious (look it up) socio-political diatribes Chris Hannah. Except that "Glen Lambert" looks and sounds identical to one Chris Hannah, and so do most of his riffs. Get it? Yes, that is to say that, for whatever reason, the ever hilarious lunatics in Propagandhi have cooked up this oddball alter ego to throw some folks for a loop. And the guys may be amused to learn that, by some accounts that I've read, there are actually people out there who are deaf, dumb, and blind enough to fall for it. But fear not, confusing humor aside, "Glen Lambert" is Chris Hannah, and Propagandhi is still one of the greatest bands to have ever eaten, slept, and shit on the planet - all the while stopping to progressively thrash from time to time. And while fairly far from as immediately infectious as their other full-lengths, "Potemkin City Limits" is immediately defined as the trio's most technical and diverse outing to date, so give it some time to sink it, because that's what it requires. For instance, opener "A Speculative Fiction" starts off with borderline jazzy clean chords before starting to contrast midpaced power chords with the kind of dissonant arpeggiated riffs that always catch my ear, and some of the strained backing vocal harmonies definitely express a lot of truly genuine emotion before the track eventually hits on some thrashy speeds, a weird sort of lulled rock riff, and distorted bass breaks before drawing to a close. There's just a shitload going on here. After another somewhat odd intro riff, "Fedallah's Hearse" breaks out some killer discordant chord phrasings and upstroked power chord riffs that add a darker air to one of the more memorable tracks in terms of the catchy vocal arrangements during the chorus - which is also driven by quirky little technical runs that pull from a hint more dissonant melody. And what about the return to the jazzy fare that kicks off "Cut Into the Earth", complete with slick cymbal flare and dominant bass work over lush little guitar phrases that seem almost like afterthoughts? Batting sixth, it's "America's Army (Die Jugend Marschiert)", which is the first of the tracks that, after what seems to be a sample of some sort of Nazi children's anthem, sounds a little more "typical" of a Propagandhi track - and bearing in mind both the song title and lyrical content it's probably no accident that they seem to borrow a riff from "Boys of Summer" once the darker second half of the track starts to take shape with some chilling melodies. And Todd "The Rod" Kowalski once again handles a fair chunk of the lead vocal duties, most effectively alongside the faster and much more hardcore-ish aggression of tracks like "Impending Halfhead", or the more melodic and angular accoutrements of the awesome "Life at Disconnect", which sort of reminds me of his days in I-Spy. And, as with most of the band's records, they save the best for last with an intense whopper in the absolutely brilliant "Iteration", immediately bursting with energetic picking patterns and vocal hooks before exploring some absolutely amazing melodic tinged riffs that harness a massive wealth of feeling and emotion that really hit hard (as do the wicked drum fills). Later in the piece things hit on a brief chugging metal vein before switching over to more upstrokes and arpeggiated licks that give way to some blazing solos reminiscent of the almighty "Purina Hall of Fame". Awesome. Having been recorded in "a warehouse, a basement, and a bedroom", the results are pretty damn impressive, as always. The vocals aren't quite as bright as I'd prefer, so it can take your ears some time to adjust to that, but the guitars are nice and crisp, while the drums sound as natural and snappy as ever. In fact, the drum work is pretty damn impressive throughout the record, stepping up the energy and creativity of the fills and accents a little more than usual to match the increased level of complexity that's going on with the layering of various guitar parts and prominently melodic and active bass runs. There's also a shitload more vocal harmonizing going on here, which can at times come across as a touch forced, but at its best it's pretty fuckin' promising, so I'll be pissed if I have to wait another four years to see where they're gonna go next. But hey, the bottom line is that, despite minor rough spots on rare occasion (it sounds like there's a quick drum falter or two in the middle of "Iteration", for example), this is a damn strong sounding record, okay? The disc is housed in a slick matte digipack with a matte booklet (printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, of course) that contains all of the lyrics, band statements, and applicable quotations of interest amidst panels of a large painting that depicts the slaughter cycle of pigs herded to their deaths in mass numbers. Most striking in terms of proving just how forthright these dudes are, however, is the photograph of their American label owner Fat Mike shaking hands with John Kerry above the lyrics to a song called "Rock for Sustainable Capitalism" and preceding a quote from an address to the National Cattlemen Association that calls out the line, "If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution." God damn, these guys mean business. Because, of course, the lyrics pull no fewer punches, and in fact strike me as a little more bleak and bitter than past exploits: "We'll drive you 'til you're skin and bones and when we finally reach the end, you'll fall into our open arms, accept our tears of sympathy. Make way for our emptiness. A descent that never ends 'til the one last living thing is the next thing to go. You should know by now that we never come in peace..." For all their silly antics and over the top smartass humor, Propagandhi is by far one of the most sincere bands out there that really stands up and walks the walk, and for that, I'll follow them through to the end. They've never missed the mark. Never. I love this fucking band.

[Fat Wreck Chords]
Running time - 41:27, Tracks: 12
[Notable tracks: Fedallah's Hearse, America's Army (Die Jugend Marschiert), Life at Disconnect, Iteration]
Propagandhi -