by Chris Donnell
Deaf Wish have had a bit of a tumultuous history over the years. Despite releasing consistently high-quality material, the group has gone through membership changes, cross-continental moves, and brief hiatuses during their nine-year lifespan. The now entirely Melbourne-based four piece consists of guitarists Sarah Hardiman and Jensen Tjhung, bassist Nick Pratt, and drummer Daniel Twomey. The foursome have been actively releasing singles and EPs since 2007, and 2009’s Reality & Visions LP stands as their only full-length until 2015’s Pain. Prior to Pain, they signed to Sub Pop and released the Saint Vincent’s EP, following a four year gap in released material. This momentum carried over into the absolutely blistering and reinvigorating Pain LP. Pain feels like a whirlwind retrospective and condensation of over thirty years of punk history. Deaf Wish abandoned the traditional structure of band hierarchy (wherein a single member assumes the majority responsibility of artistic control) in favor of a democratic format that allows all four members singing and songwriting freedom. The result is a collection of songs that allow for the individual members to shine. As a result, Pain runs the gamut from hardcore to indie-rock and proto-punk without straying from Deaf Wish’s trademark chaotic sound.
The opening third of the album is a tidy summation of Deaf Wish’s approach as a band; “The Whip” opens with the simplistic and hammering repetition that references the drone-y atonality of no-wave. Guitarist Jensen Tjhung provides bleakly deep and restrained vocals. Half way into the track the remainder of the band explodes into action, reveling in the sonic cacophony that they maintain for the rest of the album. Moving from “The Whip,” into “Newness Again,” Deaf Wish transition away from no-wave into revved-up hardcore that heavily features Pratt, replete with shredded punk howling. “They Know,” is another songwriting-genre switch with guitarist Sarah Hardiman crooning over a Hüsker Dü-esque riff that disintegrates into chaotic guitar shredding. “Eyes Closed” and “Pain” are both sung by Pratt and prominently feature his predilection for scrappy hardcore that barely avoids careening into outright chaos. With each new song, there seems to be a new voice and a new take on a classic sound.
The second half of the album moves away from the Pratt-penned songs and explores more melodic territory. “Sex Witch” features vocals from Hardiman and exposes Deaf Wish’s very prominent early-Sonic Youth influences. Atmospheric guitar dynamics and an eminently catchy chorus are primarily displayed. Tjhung and Hardiman share vocal duty and guitar work in the ghostly “On” that triggers flashbacks to Sonic Youth’s classic “Teenage Riot.” “Dead Air” opens with Hardiman’s singular lyric “In my heart there is blood/ In my heart there is only blood” before launching into a six-minute scorching instrumental. Both guitars furiously scrape and soar above a blistering melodic bass line before cooling off into slow waves of drone and distortion. It would be the perfect big band close out to the schizophrenic Pain but Deaf Wish further play with our expectations by jumping into the gorgeous “Calypso,” the moment “Dead Air” finally rings out. “Calypso” is a breezy and calm come down that recalls the dragging riffs of Dinosaur Jr. and Replacements with Tjhung’s lazy drawl conjuring similarities to both J. Mascis and Thurston Moore.
Deaf Wish is a rare band that absolutely flourishes within the democratic process of songwriting. By trusting each member to step to the forefront, each individual’s greatest creative potential is drawn out. Instead of simply playing along everybody is given a chance to add their unique twist. The result is a melting pot of prominent independent 80’s punk songs reimagined in a modern, loud-as-hell dissonant punk context. On paper, Pain should be stretched too thin by its wide variety of influences and stylistic leaps. In practice, Deaf Wish are incredibly proficient at unifying these disparate sub-genres into a coherent style that allows each of their songwriters to toy with the details of their original influences. Pain is a powerful lesson in the quality of music that can emerge from four musicians who draw from unique influences and trust each other enough to craft songs as equals.