When the members of feminist punk four-piece Hemlines released the band’s first demo last July, its member were still learning to navigate D.C.’s tight-knit but ultimately inviting punk scene. Now, after a formative summer spent on stages—including the venerable rusty box at Fort Reno—and in D.C.’s Swim Two Birds recording studio, the band is ready for its formal introduction.
That will come Friday, when Hemlines releases its first official EP, All Your Homes. The five-song collection, on local cassette-only label DZ Tapes, zigzags through a swath of the punk spectrum with observable skill; bassist Dana Liebelson, guitarist Ian Villeda, and drummer Julie Yoder weave pop-punk melodies around moments of raucous hardcore, lending nuance to a genre that can be stubbornly stayed. “Fixate/Animate,” the record’s second song, opens with an easy riff straight from the Speedy Ortiz playbook. Two minutes or so later, when the song gets to the point, it erupts into a chaos of crashing cymbals and shredding vocals. It’s a worthwhile journey.
Indeed, nothing on the album dazzles as much as singer and guitarist Katie Park, who displays startling growth as a punk vocalist since the band’s first shows and early demo. At times on the record, Park moves beyond the typical range of punk “screaming”—usually a measured, gut-first growl maintained throughout songs and live shows—to a seemingly spontaneous, throat-blistering howl honed, Park says, through a lifetime spent navigating the patriarchy.
“I think a lot of our songs deal with expressing rage, and screaming is a pretty natural extension of that,” Park tells the City Paper. “It’s a feeling you get when you repeatedly run into institutions that enable rape or cultural attitudes that stigmatize mental illness. It’s a feeling that helps you break out from cycles of inaction and actually do something.”
Sonically, the effect is eye-opening. At the pinnacle of “Fixate/Animate,” for example, Park—hitting measured notes just moments before, mind you—channels her best Jake Sayles and taps into true vocal viciousness. That viciousness, that rage as she describes it, feels like the point of the songs as a whole. At times on the record, Hemlines crosses a kind of line between empowerment and revenge fantasy. “She’s always looking for another battle / she’s always sharpening her claws,” Park growls on the EP’s opening track, “Agenda.” We are women, hear us roar, Hemlines seems to say. But also, maybe you should consider keeping your head on a swivel. Hemlines might be coming for you.
Photo by Brendan Polmer