You know the score by now—scene veterans come back after a lengthy absence with new music to ingratiate themselves into its current form, the extent of which will likely be ironed out further down the line. For Crime In Stereo, House & Trance represents their first new album in 13 years, to the usual tune of ‘fanfare only if you’d been previously invested’. To be fair though, this is more than just another hardcore band trying their hand at making it again a few extra years down the line. There is actually a degree of notoriety to Crime In Stereo that makes this feel a bit more like an event, albeit not in the sense where firmly-locked doors are getting blown down.
Still, the added distance gone on House & Trance is an automatically more commendable feat, in which Crime In Stereo take the total opposite approach to hardcore returns by avoiding pigeonholing themselves. Maybe not to the extent laid out in a pretty tongue-in-cheek title, but certainly in a way that sees melodic hardcore to be a lot more pliable than many will presume it to be. That is, if House & Trance can really be seen as ‘melodic hardcore’, even tenuously. No, this is more Crime In Stereo’s transition to a sharper, cleaner side of punk and alt-rock, in which they find quite a sizable lode of inspiration to sift through and apply. Thus, it’s rarely a perfunctory revival; there’s tangible drive among House & Trance, which puts it on far better footing immediately.
In fact, there’s a lot of resemblance to what Thrice were doing in 2016 on To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere—a largely ground-up overhaul of their existing sound that now prioritises a deliberate grit and tension as its main weapon of choice. The difference, however, is that Thrice were lugging around a weight to their efforts that made them instantly imposing and monolithic. Crime In Stereo, on the other hand, opt for the solemnity and minor chills in the air when it comes to fostering their approximation of the same atmosphere. It’s obviously not as good, but it says a lot that House & Trance still makes such drastic shifts look relatively easy. While Crime In Stereo could certainly afford to go for broke on this a bit more (no less when there’s some greater variety just waiting in the wings), there’s still an incredibly satisfying listen, melodically and tunefully. The bigger hooks on Hypernormalisation and the title track invariably land, as does an almost post-punk-esque moodboard of ideas in how the production and forward motion combines.
To add to that is Kristian Hallbert as a frontman, whose vocals move around the haggard and the hard-done-by, and a considerable amount of stress that powers this resurgence’s M.O.. The very first line on the album is “Eventually, we will all be dead,” soon elucidated by a ground-down patience for billionaire avarice on Superyacht Ecopark, or spates of gun violence in the US on Goliathette, or Republican campaigns of censorship on Books Cannot Be Killed By Fire. Seldom will it manifest in a blaze of anger, but rather a dejection towards how desensitised to it all Hallbert has become. It’s a layer of nihilism that plenty would wallow in for edginess points, but that’s not the kind of band that Crime In Stereo are. They’re too old and human for something like that, so when the closer Skells—as an ‘ode’ to America as a hotbed of awfulness that never seems to stop or slow down—brandishes a refrain of “The worst place in the world,” the pathos isn’t lost in the slightest. Hell, it couldn’t be hammered home more succinctly in the follow-up sentiment “I hope you crash the goddamn planet into the sun”.
It’s a lot of the reason that House & Trance’s purposeful slow burn works. Had it been snappier or more straightforward in projecting an anger that’s more manageable in ‘normal’ punk or hardcore, it’s reach would likely be wider, but it’d also have less character. As it stands, there’s clearly a reason behind this current form, one that gets pieced together across Crime In Stereo’s individual flourishes and tilts. Again, you’ll grasp the general conceit of the album pretty quickly, but it’s in the angles in which certain pieces land that the most value comes. Hypernormalisation, for one, finds embers of Hot Water Music at its core, particularly with its bellowed salvo of “What the fuck is wrong with everyone?!” Elsewhere, there’s some terrific bass rumble on Rogue Wave and Books Cannot Be Killed By Fire, and quicker percussion tempo and a guitar texture that verges on shoegaze towards the end of the title track feels like a natural, sensible yet still riveting interpretation of this specific sound. The fact that it takes until the penultimate track Autotourniquet for familiarity to feel a bit more like a crutch speaks volumes to how Crime In Stereo have managed and enacted on these new creative impulses.
What’s more, it all carries the maturity that Crime In Stereo should be embodying at this juncture. In the sense of representing a growth and viewpoint with their music, House & Trance is honestly kind of ideal as far as returns like this go. Motivated by creative intent; appropriate in tone for where they currently are; willing to dive into interesting ideas; the fact that it’s good could genuinely just live as a bonus. And sure, it’s not hard to see where it might divide some listeners, which can be an issue, depending on how you look at it. But for a counterpoint, if Crime In Stereo were that concerned about that, they wouldn’t have pushed on further as they have. They’re making purposeful, practical moves, and in the way they come together on House & Trance, it’s almost like they never left.
For fans of: Hot Water Music, Make Do And Mend, The Movielife
‘House & Trance’ by Crime In Stereo is out now on Pure Noise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall