by Chris Donnell
With such an incredible number of artists based in major metropolitan cities it feels like heresy to consider pursuing music in a small southern city. It’s exciting when a band emerges from such an unusual environment as it allows opportunity to express concepts that might not be immediately apparent to the rest of us. Valley Slander’s debut release How Animal is a brief and excellently crafted slice of modern no-wave influenced punk music with a distinct southern vibe. Valley Slander hail from Harrisonburg, Virginia; a small college-town located deep in the valleys surrounding the Shenandoah Mountain Range. Their downbeat, mid-paced, scorching brand of punk is equal parts doomed hardcore and southern sway that harvests inspiration from the rotten end of southern life.
How Animal is a seven track tear of spartan punk bleakness that is most comparable to the less-chaotic acts in the 1970’s no wave movement. No Trend comes to mind as a major point of comparison as does Cows southern-fried repetitious noise rock. There are hints of hardcore punk influences but Valley Slander rarely encroach on the frantic speed and masculine aggression that characterizes your average hardcore band. Their songs are instead centered on the tightly interlocked bass and drums with guitar riffs playing off of sinewy bass lines and booming drum beats. Guitar freak-outs are rare and Valley Slander sidestep the common hardcore trope of utilizing an oversaturated, drowning guitar tone. The vocals are all doomed snarls and throaty howls with very little outright screaming. How Animal’s seventeen minutes are packed with tight well-executed weirdo punk that strips away much of the excess present in modern hardcore.
Lyrically, there is a running motif of anger at the constant swirl of gossip that engulfs smaller towns (the Slander half of Valley Slander). “Rat With a Mouthful of Gold” takes aim at someone described as “A rat with a mouthful of gold/Enough to buy yourself out of your hole”. On “Écorché” they draw the parallel between a medical drawing of the muscles under our skin to the kind of small town surface-level “friends” that rely on gossip to relieve boredom. “I take a peep skin deep and I know it all/I weep to learn that you are so shallow/Skin Deep” segues into the even more condemning “Just peeled back a layer or two/Before we knew it we knew all of you/Thought there was more but you were rotten to the core”. The slow and settled feeling to rural life is uniquely boring enough to drive people to the kind of harmful scandal-mongering that haunt small town relationships. Valley Slander are very bluntly calling out the people who facilitate and participate in the petty rumor-mill.
As an individual who grew up in southern Virginia (including five years in Harrisonburg) here are impressions that re-emerge while listening to How Animal. I remember buggy swampy rivers, the sight of delivery trucks packed with chickens doomed to a neighboring processing factory, and the smell of stagnant manure-flavored air. Giant sloping mountain ridges circle the skyline in every direction. Escape feels difficult and boredom is omnipresent. Anybody, southern or not, into no-wave, hardcore, noise-rock, etc. will find something to enjoy in How Animal’s compact runtime. Take a breath of fresh air and experience Valley Slander’s caustic punked out southern-goth nightmare.