We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
There can be a whiff of tyranny in the endless revisitations of D.C. punk: Of course you care about this book/documentary/ comeback album, because you once cared so deeply about the band itself. But re-enjoying the purity and fury doesn’t have to be exhausting. Consider Nites of Midnite by Red Hare, which is basically the guys from Swiz, one of D.C.’s lesser-known but still beloved bands from the 1980s. It’s a short album made with aplomb—and for better or worse, seemingly without a lot of baggage. It gives you back whatever you invest in it.
If you go looking for the old Swiz energy—which was slightly offbeat and more self-aware than what a lot of other ’80s crews produced—you’ll find it, especially in vocalist Shawn Brown’s voice, which still appealingly straddles the line between growly and enunciative. On “Hello Disaster,” about a drunk girl, his combination of full-throated distaste and what-the-fuck chagrin is particularly fun; on the title track, his calls for the listener to break free of convention probably could’ve been a little tougher. Overall, however, not much has changed in his approach since the first Swiz pseudo-comeback in the 1990s (the band called itself Sweetbelly Freakdown) and the 2002 steamroller Step Inside My Death Ray by his group Jesuseater.
Guitarist Jason Farrell and bassist Dave “Eight” Stern, meanwhile, stick to riffs that nail D.C. hardcore’s first-wave enthusiasm and second-wave precision (see Farrell’s four albums as the leader of Bluetip). Invention isn’t the thing here; beyond the renewals of Swiz’s bright brand of punk-rock tension, there are nods to the cascading chords of Bad Brains (“Be Half,” “Dialed In”), the drama of Jawbox (“Nites of Midnite”), and early Dischord’s not-so-secret affinity for metal (“Fuck Your Career”). Speaking of Jawbox, that band’s frontman, J. Robbins, produced Nites of Midnite with his usual combination of oomph and professionalism—there’s no letdown after the first explosive notes of album-opener “Horace.”
If you go looking for something relatively fresh, you might find it in the drumming by Joe Gorelick, who played in Garden Variety in the ’90s and is the rhythmic engine of Farrell’s latest band, the more garage- and pop-influenced Retisonic. On Nites of Midnite, Gorelick lets it rip—every fill sounds like it’s played with a grin. He can handle ’90s-style math rock, but he’s inherently more loose than that.
Although all those pieces hold up to scrutiny, Nites of Midnite takes on a different character if you pull away from the details and consider its context. One of the joys of old hardcore records is how they fire up your imagination: Listen to any certified ’80s classic, and if you’ve got at least a basic sense of what things were like back then, it’s easy to envision the kids making a scene. Red Hare, by contrast, exists largely because some talented grownups decided they should make music together again. That inevitable placelessness doesn’t spoil the good time, but it definitely softens the edges.