This album leaves you lying on the beach at sundown, attempting to unwind as the intense noise of the day continues to ring in your ears.
Following a string of thrilling no-frills garage punk EPs, CIVIC masterfully translated this energy into the full-length format with Future Forecast in 2021. 2 years on and the Melbourne five-piece have returned with renewed vigour, raucously reclaiming their place at the top of the local punk pantheon with the aptly titled Taken By Force.
Taken By Force opens with alarming urgency. Marching drums rise beside a blaring siren call on Dawn, setting a foreboding tone of the intensity to come. Soon Jim McCullough’s commanding vocals punch in on the project’s lead single End Of The Line. A song, he explains, is about “the realisation of your own mortality and finding peace in a chaotic moment that you have no control over''. End Of The Line acts as a vital launching point and an enticing taster of the album’s sonic palette.
With Lewis Hodgson’s guitar-work intertwining soft, jangly rhythms with face-melting garage rock riffs and solos, it’s almost as if The Church and The Stooges collided in some strange (and glorious) alternate universe. Similarly, McCullough can quickly shift his delivery from the sweaty mosh pit of a punk pub to calmer, more melancholic melodies. As he says, finding peace amidst the chaos.
It’s this dynamic duality within individual tracks, and the record at large that comes to define CIVIC's sophomore release. The album cover hints at a contrast, which features a vintage photograph of a surfer mid-barrel. Surfing is often viewed as a blissfully idyllic activity. Saturated images of Baywatch babes and warm sunny days typically come to mind. Maybe the soft harmonies of The Beach Boys, the jangly sounds of Mac Demarco or Dick Dale’s classic twangy guitar soundtrack the scene.
But not all skies are blue and clear. Not all swells are smooth and inviting. But surfers will surf regardless. Much of the day spent pummeled by violent whitewash. Diving from and frantically escaping rugged rocks and being dropped in on or aggressively yelled at. Tumbling amidst the immense unstoppable force of nature. Whilst warm harmonies and surf melodies are undoubtedly present, Taken By Force embraces the raw power of surfing, pulling these elements long beyond the shallows into the hardcore breaks beyond.
The album’s cathartic centrepiece is Trick Of The Light, which at over 5 minutes long, is nearly double the length of the surrounding tracks—opting to broodingly build to the energy delivered in quick bursts elsewhere. The song has a bleak and nihilistic tone underscored by a drearier vocal performance by McCullough that brings to mind Grian Chatten of Fontaines D.C. Though his distinct Aussie delivery retains the band's singular identity. And suppose somehow you forgot what band you were listening to during this more patient passage. In that case, the climactic eruption of Hodgson’s feverish guitar shredding and pounding percussion of David Forcier will smash you over the head in a reminder.
But whilst Trick Of The Light offers an exciting look into a more expansive sound for the group, it is proven time and time again here that no tricks or fluff are required for a CIVIC song to succeed. In fact, it is with their deceptively simple rockers that their force is fully felt. There is a seemingly endless supply of modern groups taking inspiration from post-punk acts like Joy Division or Television, and for a good reason, these bands are incredible, and their presences are certainly felt on Taken By Force. But very few seem to have desires to look further back, taking cues from the free-spirited commotion of proto-punk and the genre's earliest champions.
This more primitive approach fosters a greater sense of fun and freedom that CIVIC embraces wholeheartedly. Boiling garage rock and punk down to their essentials and the unbridled energy that burns at their core. And this is what makes them such an exhilarating group in the current climate, as exemplified by the ear-splitting shredding and snarling cynicism of Fly Song, the lo-fi, Hüsker Dü-esque smash Time Girl and the infectiously ready-to-chant chorus of the title track.
The album’s penultimate song - Blood Rushes - slows things down into a dreamy haze as Dawn completes its transition to the album closer, Dusk. Here, Taken By Force creeps to a close with the marching drums and sirens of the opener replaced by gently lapping waves and an unsettling fuzz of electronic feedback. Leaving you left lying on the beach at sundown, attempting to unwind as the intense noise of the day continues to ring in your ears. Perfectly tying up the immersive dichotomy that is Taken By Force.
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