ONSIND - Anaesthesiology | Album Review | By Volume

I knew we'd never write. somehow that seemed alright. This counts as calling three years out. The Wrens - 13 Months in 6 Minutes



Protest songs are about jerks.

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Author: on May 4, 2013
Discount Horse
May 1, 2013

Misgivings about By Volume’s international scope aside, let’s talk England. Specifically, let’s talk cultural divide. Anaesthesiology is a north-eastern story, but I approach it from the south. I grew up in one of Britain’s dormant, south-easterly towns, one so middle-class it has a “Royal” in it, and one I used to feel ashamed bringing up in conversation; now I’m just too exhausted to. I’ve lived with the vague idea of “Tory” as long as I can remember, but only in its context. Life didn’t bring me to battle against them, nor did I get a warning as scrupulous as the one on this album’s first track; I just felt trapped, a politically oblivious passenger existing in the musings of a Toryism so vague, so expected and long-ingrained, that it never got mentioned. Such is the case when you live in a town where allegiances never change – no one talks about the details. You don’t learn politics first hand.

The issues ONSIND have admirably treated in their music – feminism, trans* issues, and getting rid of regressive, shitty laws about immigration – are things they’ve seen in effect. They are things I’ve heard gossiped about, treated like a funny newspaper obit, or just ignored. My politics haven’t grown in the same way as ONSIND’s have, but they exist in universal ways; we’re both able to turn on the TV and feel sick about what’s happening in the world, which ONSIND make relatable by sampling news broadcasts, reminding us that it doesn’t stop happening if we stop watching. But the idea of the “Tory” on Anaesthesiology comes from a person who has suffered them directly, a grandfather who passes on his distrust of a right-wing myopic vision, like it is imitable advice that needs to be held no matter what. I don’t know if that translates to my experience of the south, where I’ve been living with that MP as if I was in a gated community. I find ONSIND’s political perspective unique and refreshing for that reason – they seem to know how much politics and sentiment get mixed up, which is why they imply the lessons start early, from mysterious, important family figures, but they also admit that it’s counter-productive (hypocritical, even) to treat people en masse. “It’s tribal to think along those lines”, they counterpoint, after compelling us never, ever, to trust a Tory.

ONSIND are a case study into how a political band isn’t inherently a socially-conscious one. Further steps exist, like: being so committed to a cause you don’t damage it yourself. With Dissatisfactions, the band’s last release, they redacted one of their own songs, worried that its stance could wound even one person or be misinterpreted as transphobic in its effort to stand with feminism. In our climate, where people with the name Julie seem to have a free pass to shit out hate-crimes in opinion columns (on “liberal” papers, no less), there’s this band that want to stand for anyone who needs a voice, and refuse to let one group beat down another to get a leg up. They admit the irony (“guys lamenting patriarchy”), checking themselves as if they aren’t the point of their own music. And that’s what makes ONSIND’s music “socially-conscious” – whether it’s straight up folk-punk or dashingly arranged with a full band, it’s never really about them. Anaesthesiology is stories about the north-east, like bullying and a lack of hospitals, like hostility that postures as religion.

Anaesthesiology is ONSIND’s most irresistible sounding album yet, full of flourishes and nimble guitar solos, involving a clarinet, but most importantly able to put their points across as minimal pop-punk missives. ONSIND make sure you can remember the right lines – that you can drive chants like “I won’t ever let these bastards grind me down!” into the dust – and let you mull over the others. “BA77” is one of the most powerful folk punk songs I’ve ever heard, its desperation not for one second a result of giving up. They sing, in their signature dual gang-vocal, about being “sick of borders, sick of nations / sick of racist immigration laws”, and they send it like their own eternally travelling telegram, hoping, even as a band obscure to anyone outside of Durham, that someone else might sing along.

ONSIND’s songs always embody the traditions of the protest song, but simplify it by the maxim that most people are just jerks. Their core ideology is that you can always do better with two plus singers, which translates beyond just the music; you’ll always make a difference with allies. Anaesthesiology is even more communal than Dissatisfactions, full of raucous, anthemic moments that eliminate the ill-feeling they were generated by. “Sweet and Tender, Julian”, a shuffling, mischievously weaving story about schoolyard bullying and karmic retribution, tries to beat down bullying by laughing in its face, and the image procured is the deserved one, upbeat because life got just a little bit better: “She planned her sweet revenge for weeks, and when it came off, it was class”. In these little victories, Anaesthesiology earns its elation.

Julian Stokes, the humbled bad guy in that miserable school story, is as vague as the Tory ruining lives. His jokes aren’t revealed, and instead we’re invited to see the punishing payoff of his crimes. This is how ONSIND try to make it through another day: Anaesthesiology starts with the antagonist, but it concentrates on friends and family, advice and welfare: “Dissatisfactions”, the album’s last, self-referencing track (which brings the electric guitars to the foreground, for once) makes up its own manifesto because no others will do: “you just take it day by day by day”. Anaesthesiology finds positives in even the meaning of a dark day, and when the band sing of symbolic Christmases or “funerals more poignant in the rain”, there’s a sense of optimism permeating from the tragedy. It’s easy to despair in a politician who is aware of his own destructive tendencies, or to see racist laws passed clinically and efficiently, because people don’t listen to protest songs while they vote; people don’t think of half the things ONSIND sing about before they act. But this inexhaustible, unflinching record would keep trying for everyone, to educate with passion and to reach into a “political” world because it matters. They’re sick of nations and sick of the vague Tory filling up this one, south or north, but sick doesn’t mean tired: “At least we fucking tried”, they sing. They always will.

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