Punk had barely turned five years old when the Exploited titled its 1981 debut Punks Not Dead. It's a phrase that has never really left the lexicon; a flag flown to remind all that the Year Zero spirit of 1976 perpetually renews itself with each generation. Hard Evidence, a local quartet that owes no small debt to the Exploited and other thrifty, melodic Oi! and street-punk bands, makes its debut with Last One Standing. The band certainly reveres the brash but tuneful punk of its forebears, the kind of music that doesn't sacrifice hooks in its need for speed. As the title suggests, Last One Standing presents the band as outsiders among outsiders, the last of the true believers. The title track itself turns this ideal into a mission statement for the band, for the music they play and for the city in which they live. The song also shows Hard Evidence at its most fist-pumpingly anthemic, with a song malleable enough to fit any righteous cause.
Ryan Brown anchors the quartet with a delivery somewhere between a sneer and a growl, and with the barest hint of a British lilt to sell the band's aesthetic. The melodic and straight-shooting solos from Luke Deichmann operate as a second voice along Brown's and show the band's classicist bent; those riffs give a taste of Mick Jones alongside the already Clash-inspired "Spoiled Rotten." The sturdy and bouncy rhythm section of Nathan Pionke (bass) and Dave Jafari (drums) make a song like "Criminals and Outcasts" forceful at one point and buoyant the next.
Punks are often upfront about exactly how punk they are (and, as it turns out, the answer is usually "punk as fuck"), so that makes nuance a little tough to detect on Last One Standing. We'll assume that "Rising Sun," a song that on its surface appears to valorize the bravery of so-called kamikaze pilots in World War II, is more a critique on empire and blind loyalty. That assumption is underlined by the album's final cut, a cover of Blitz's "Propaganda" that is both a fitting tribute to another Oi! progenitor and a reminder of the band's distrust of authority, privilege and power. Punk is old enough to have eaten its proverbial tail a few times by now, but Hard Evidence uses just enough reverence to summon up revolution.—Christian Schaeffer
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