Show Me the Body are the biggest name in punk's biggest scene — New York. Dog Whistle sees the international exports at an unprecedented height of fame. Newly pared-down, their sound now recalls Japanese weirdos Les Rallizes Dénudés. The banjo is still twanging around, and it's still distorted, like every other instrument in the mix, to an almost ludicrous degree. Bass rattles at an impossibly low register. The sound is so extreme it might graze you.
But Dog Whistle lacks variety. When stacked up against 2017's Corpus I, it can feel streamlined to a fault. But this is a matter of opinion. And your opinion may come down to whether you prefer a scattershot patchwork to a one-note gut punch. This release will more than satisfy fans of Body War. And Show Me the Body wisely keep things brief; providing an undiluted, visceral rush of anger.
Another wise decision is the band's translucent lyricism. It's often thought the more candid you are, the more 'punk' you are. But so many bands fall into the trap of oversharing, or presenting empty and dickless neoliberal sloganism. There is more to punk than giving amplification to sixth-form political soapboxing. SMBT’s decision to keep things murky pays dividends.
At some points they’re knowingly contentious. 'Camp Orchestra' seems to compare being professional musicians to being Jews in the Holocaust(!?), with lyrics like 'No work will set you free', and 'Down by the end of the tracks / live in hell, die by gas'. But this mismatched conflating of two widly different scenarios serves to make the album even more raw and confronting. It’s as messy and melodramatic as Sylvia Plath’s ‘Daddy’. But how refreshing not to be in the Guardian readers' echo chamber, and to feel some genuine disgust and anger.
If this LP is giving any message at all, though, it's difficult to find. Corpus have a manifesto which touts 'intellectual warfare', 'empowerment' and 'becoming free' but neglects to elaborate further. The power to do what? Freedom from what? Thankfully this wankerishness doesn't make it into Dog Whistle, acting instead as some PR window-dressing to make listeners feel they are somehow protesting inequality by listening to a cool band.
One of SMTB's calls to action is to spray paint their logo (three tessellating coffins, in a design which seems cribbed from Black Flag's iconic bars) and upload pictures of it. This reveals they aren't particularly interested in politics or activism, despite how they may want to appear. Instead, they choose to use their influence on fans to market their product. This is a fine racket and nothing worth getting angry about. It simply outs their manifesto as a little insincere.
But punk doesn't have a responsibility to ignite social change, and hasn't inspired much activism at all this millennium. Even the recent explosion of trans punkers' sphere of influence is limited. You're arguably preaching to the choir; creating in a space already occupied by socially-liberal members of the middle class. But maybe that's all it ever was. Just forget about the politics. It's an excuse to bop your head to enormous riffs and breakdowns. This is one of those great times you don't have to cringe through all the lyrics too.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe