Gauche: A People’s History of Gauche

Birthed from Washington D.C.’s punk scene like a manifestation of righteous rage, Gauche—which counts as members Priests’ Daniele Yandel, Downtown Boys’ Mary Jane Regalado, and Jason P. Barnett—emerged from the Mid-Atlantic bog in 2015 with a seven-song EP, coupling social commentary and new wave riffs. Four years later, the band debuts their full-length, with six reworked and re-recorded EP tracks plus five new songs that find the band sharpening its sound to a steely point. The studio gloss occasionally smothers, but A People’s History of Gauche is a swamp creature for modern times, a driving and tenacious record that never loses its feral appeal.

Dalliances with atonality and structural devolution evoke Devo or the B-52s, but lyrically, the record is a burn letter shoved in the locker of history’s victors. “Everybody tries to win/Look who gets away with sin…/White men get away,” Regalado snarls on the final track, “Rectangle.” The confluence of the personal and the political helps the record avoid abstraction and stay planted in specificity. This is not a “Schoolhouse Rock” of contemporary politics and colonialist history, but a fevered airing of grievances, a burning flag, a renunciation of respectability politics in favor of a more bracing alternative.

“Pay Day” rails against the ills of capitalism, repeating the phrase, “I know I can’t survive like this.” The wallop of the drums and the galloping bassline are as exhilarating as the lines, “Income, always think about payday/Always waiting on wages/Always think about systems.” Tell me about it, a freelancer somewhere sighs. “History,” the best song from the earlier EP, still rises to the top of the full-length, but it’s one instance in which all the studio bells and whistles might have been a distracting temptation: the driving bass that kicks off both versions finds a tamer counterpart in the cacophony of sounds, a mix that seems to put every instrument in competition with each other.

The album dips in and out of tempos, themes, and varying degrees of intensity without losing any of its urgency. “Boom Hazard,” an ode to implosion both nuclear and relational, provides a salve against the fury and sadness that bookend it. The avant-garde saxophone trills of “Dirty Jacket” lowers your adrenaline before the inevitable spike one song later. The spectrum of subjects covered, from economic disparity to surveillance, clearly defines an insidious and omnipresent “they,” the monolith of power and oppression against which Gauche beat their fists. It’s the government; it’s the bigots with money; it’s history writ large, the way there’s no erasing erasure.

Early on, “Cycles” addresses the ravages of white supremacy, Eric Garner (“Reading all about how/He can’t breathe/Or walk around at night”) and bodies piled at the border: “Lost in the desert/She is not alive/Cuz impunity lasts a long, long time.” The horn weaves around this human rot, and yet this is the paradox Gauche asks us to contemplate: the clarion call to bear witness to the atrocity of history while writing one anew. A People’s History is not the first musical rejection of modern ills, but it’s one of the most unflinching. It is the soundtrack to both a particular moment and the defiance that’s powered the proletariat since history began.

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