“And I ain’t got time for niceties,” sang Vic Chesnutt some years ago. The Coathangers, also hailing from Georgia, channel the same attitude on The Devil You Know. The band tackle the issues of gun violence and drug addiction with unwavering honesty. Best of all, they pull it off without losing their playfulness. It is a rollercoaster ride of lo-fi garage rock that indiscriminately celebrates everything from 60s girl group harmonies to moody post punk. And with so much happening, it leaves you itching to go backwards in their catalogue and look for the songs that led them to such a vibrant place.
At the heart of many of these songs resides compassion. Julie Kugel, Meredith Franco, and Stephanie Luke call out the fear that pushes us into dark places but reserve passing judgement. After all, no amount of screaming has ever convinced a junkie or misogynist to change their ways. On “Hey Buddy”, the rhythm section creates an irresistible groove reminiscent of ESG but the guitar adds an acerbic counter punch the keeps you on edge as you’re dancing. That unsettled feeling carries over to the lyrics where the patriarchy hurls abuse at those willing to live outside the rigid gender roles it demands. It holds up a mirror to those attitudes and exposes how silly one looks dressed in fear.
Sometimes, however, you need to take that mirror and hit someone with it to wake them up. The social media backlash has already started over “F The NRA”, a song that calls out the gun lobby for using fear to drive profits. The fact that the song has disrupted some of their fans strengthens the case for why they needed to record it. The Coathangers are an easy band to love with their sarcastic wit but these dangerous times need artists willing to take a stand. Those who abandon The Coathangers over “F The NRA” are necessary collateral damage (and probably not missed).
From the sunny verses of “Bimbo” to the haunted whisper of “Stranger Danger”, The Coathangers cover a lot of musical ground over 11 songs. The versatility of the band has become one of their greatest strengths and it keeps the album bristling with energy. There are psychedelic flourishes that feel like a bad trip (“Lithium”), driving slabs of grunge (“Crimson Telephone”), and soaring guitar freak-outs (“Step Back”). The songs never overstay their welcome as the band keeps pushing forward with a new found urgency.
The Devil You Know slaps us around, makes us dance, makes us think, and gives us a hug before it’s gone. The Coathangers are no longer a mischievous gang of musical pranksters; they are a rock-n-roll force to contend with.
Release: 8th March 2019, Suicide Squeeze Records