Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. It’s a poorly kept secret that any new music successfully channeling the energy of the post-punk bands I fell in love with as a 1980s teenager will catch my interest. My intense, albeit brief, love affair with hardcore music was brought to life and nurtured by Ivan and Pete’s “Hardcore Show,” which aired on WTUL 91.5 FM radio every Friday night. This is why the music of Austin, Texas quartet Institute fills me with a certain kind of angsty ecstasy.
The band’s last album, 2013s Catharsis, only hinted at the greatness of which the band was capable, but it still astonishes me how much better they’ve become – lyrically and musically – in just a few years. Within the first few minutes, it becomes clear these are songs about privilege and conformity and why they are both so damaging and dangerous.
Though it may be difficult to understand what’s coming out of the “marble-filled mouth” of singer Moses Brown, it’s easy to feel his frustration. “Exhibitionism” features lines like “obsolescent white bread schools bred conceit,” something that will make perfect sense to anyone who’s suffered through a suburban education, while the repeated refrain of “could have been born to war” in “Only Child” furthers the point that “it’s hard to say these things do stunt you but most privileges do.”
While Brown’s vocal style requires one to have a lyric sheet on hand, the music itself bypasses the brain and goes straight for the vital organs. Arak Avakian’s guitar melodies are both cutthroat and catchy, while machine-gun precise drums from Barry Elkanick and cavernous bass from Adam Cahoon (who contributed to songwriting along with Brown) help disabuse doubters of the notion that punk is just a bunch of annoying noise.
The technical skill on display here is as effective as the wordplay. The bass melody of “Good ‘Ol Boys” bleeds into the guitar and drum riffs with a subtlety that is as impressive as the lyrics that pull no punches and give zero fucks: “The hushed racism, the vile inheritance / a baton handoff hidden in daylight for my old friends.”
“All This Pride” is frighteningly good at marrying music with messages; its galloping beat and queasy guitar befits the song’s disgust with jingoism and white supremacy: “All these flags and all this pride / what are you proud of? / what do you hide?” “Human Law” echoes this uneasy feeling with a lurching bassline and lyrics bemoaning “true genetic violence” before it slows down and then speeds up to a blistering pace, ending with a melody that’s almost pretty, not to mention pretty unexpected.
In an interview with The Fader, Moses noted that “Police, government, and masculinity all are power constructs meant to put people down so the people running the show can get laid.” This provocative statement is further explored in the album’s closer “Powerstation,” a song that moves from a Gary Glitter stomp into something approaching the sleaze of vintage trash metal, even as it eviscerates the police state.
“We see you shaking hands with mass-killers, murderers, and rapists saying we’re so proud of the work you did in Florida, Sandy Hook, Colorado / all the people scared, you put down / all the people you made feel weak.”
Slamming your elbows against the often-confining mosh pit of hardcore takes balls, and Institute succeeds at that task with style. The songs on Subordination do not follow clichés, despite uncannily evoking music from several decades ago. Institute’s ability to combine challenging, yet memorable, music with audacious lyrics is something to which many bands aspire but rarely achieve; they end up either sounding preachy, boring, or both. Thankfully, Institute is neither of those things, displaying the kind of nonconformist vitality that is sorely needed in today’s musical landscape.
Gardner, Noel. “Institute, Subordination.” Reviews. The Quietus, 7 June 2017, http://thequietus.com/articles/22577-institute-subordination-album-review. Accessed 20 June 2017.
McDermott, Patrick D. “Institute Debuts ‘Powerstation,’ Their New Album’s Killer First Single.’ The Fader, 27 Apr. 2017, http://www.thefader.com/2017/04/27/institute-powerstation-sacred-bones-stream. Accessed 20 June 2017.