In a genre like punk that can traditionally seem so spontaneous and off-the-cuff, Derek Zanetti comes across as an artist who really knows what he’s doing. He’s been the sole mastermind behind The Homeless Gospel Choir for quite a while now, and has amassed a number of connections throughout the genre, spanning from Anti-Flag to Frank Iero to Frank Turner. That’s also been buoyed be a pretty prolific stream of releases over the last decade, but there’s a definite canniness to the fact that This Land Is Your Landfill is the album in which the most tangible expansion of the project has taken place. For one, it’s a better way of standing out among the glut of folk-punk singer-songwriters that continues to be swelling (even though a voice and sense of humour as distinct as Zanetti’s has fared pretty well at that already), but it’s also a suitable way to capitalise upon what might just be the greatest amount of traction this project has had to date. It definitely doesn’t hurt that he’s flanked by a pretty stacked cast from within the more underground branches of indie-punk – perhaps most noticeably Maura Weaver of Mixtapes and Ogikubo Station – and considering the bar for quality with Zanetti’s work has always been rather high, This Land Is Your Landfill could be a fairly important next step.
That appears to be the case given how the sound of this album is more gruff and exposed, but the pop sensibilities that have always been imperative here are left intact, and Zanetti’s well-orchestrated dive into alt-rock carries a lot of weight and resonance. It’s a move that seems to have come naturally overall (save for a few overly-rough edges), and for as many dark and dismal places as this album reaches into, the inimitable charm and wit remain. It’s alt-punk that’s tailor-made for 2020, and even if that fit has been occupied quite a lot already, Zanetti and his band have the gusto to squeeze themselves into it too.
Granted, when that exact proverbial suit has been worn to such an immaculate standard by Spanish Love Songs just a few months prior, it can present something of an uphill battle to, at the very least, even endeavour to match up. And given how wreckingly powerful and poignant Brave Faces Everyone still is, it’s nothing revelatory to say that This Land Is Your Landfill doesn’t quite match up, but Zanetti is smart enough to redirect the focus on the perspective of the struggling musician amidst the chaos. Of course, as the title would suggest in its poking of Woodie Guthrie’s seminal This Land Is Your Land, the backdrop still takes its toll; there’s still the huge weight to bear from climate change still not being taken seriously, politics continuing to eat itself and the never-ending chorus of reactionary online tunnel vision to bombard the overload at all times. And at the middle of it all stands Zanetti, succumbing to the pressure that sees him facing his imposter syndrome on Don’t Compare and seeing his hard work seemingly unable to pay off on Art Punk. It’s a familiar scenario that’s been revised and retold numerous times over the past couple of years, but there’s a knack for humour and clever lyricism on tracks like Global Warming and Social Real Estate that gives it a bit of flair and spark, if only by not being the umpteenth iteration of making do in a decrepit, unfurnished apartment that’s become so tiresome. And again like with Spanish Love Songs, the kernel of hope that peeks through on the closer Punk As Fuck comes from a place of real intent, where perseverance and camaraderie makes all the toil worthwhile.
It’s a good way of freshening up what can be a particularly limited throughline, and that same ethos is brought to the alt-punk execution as a whole, though not always working as well. The production on This Land Is Your Landfill is the kind that can allow volume to swamp of instrumental drive, and that can be a problem with parts of Social Real Estate or Lest We Forget that trade off some of their momentum for loudness which doesn’t pay off all that well. Similarly, the lo-fi filters laid over A Dream About The Internet take what would be a pretty innocuous acoustic song and wring a lot of the charm from it as a clear filler cut. They aren’t frequent turns, but they do become distracting when, on the whole, This Land Is Your Landfill feels incredibly comfortable with where it is. Vocally, Zanetti is a strident presence with how deeply he’s rooted in a Chris Conley-esque emo vocal, and when he’s allowed to show off his upper limits for a more ragged performance like what Young And In Love builds up to, the unassuming, almost goofy exterior tactfully comes apart and it works remarkably. And as predictable as it can be to say when a good rollick or sway can almost always elevate songs like these, there’s no denying that You Never Know, Blind Faith and at least a half-dozen others really do hit that sweet spot with pinpoint accuracy. It mightn’t quite be enough to mask the less-tolerable production choices, but for it to come as close as it does sincerely counts.
Thus, This Land Is Your Landfill is the sort of album that’s teetering on greatness without totally crossing over, though it’s more a case of how many repeated spins it’ll take for that to happen rather than if it will at all. This is the sort of evolution that’s always welcome, in which an existing core is expanded upon rather than changed, and even if the results can sometimes struggle to connect, there’s a human heartbeat and intent behind such decisions that makes it all the harder to fully deride. Top that off with Zanetti being as great as he always is and his new band proving themselves virtually across the board, and The Homeless Gospel Choir have arrived at a point that feels totally natural for them. They’re much bigger and bolder now than ever before, and they’re getting some particularly choice results because of it.
For fans of: Frank Turner, Dave Hause, The Menzingers
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘This Land Is Your Landfill’ by The Homeless Gospel Choir is released on 24th April on Hassle Records.