Making the choice not to change is as powerful as changing.
A Leftöver Crack conversation really can only be held after a certain set of facts are laid out on the table. First, their particular mash-up of punk rock, trash metal and ska doesn’t have to make sense; it’s just the way it is. Second, as far as punk goes, Leftöver Crack is the realest of the real deal. They don’t care who they offend, and they go out of their way to offend everyone. Third, each individual band member had a long and storied career in underground, radical leftist, antiestablishment music—and some with drug and alcohol abuse, recovery and relapse. These guys embody the reasons kids were told to stay away from punk rock. They made the records teenagers hid from their parents. And finally, above all else, they have some real shit to say and they goddamn say it. Well folks, Leftöver Crack’s 11-year absence has ended, and your favorite “anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-breeding but pro-choice” punk rock band is back, and, save for much of the lineup, nothing’s changed.
Constructs of the State starts off with all the rage and fury that could be expected from a band returning from an absence with a gutful of piss and vinegar to spew. “Archaic Subjugation” begins with feedback and a hellishly fast drum beat that sounds downright evil. The vocals themselves are demonic, high-pitched howlings against religion used for social control, as they scream, “You really know assuredly you don’t live in hell/ You really know assuredly you don’t live in hell/ You really need assurance that you won’t go to Hell/ Then throw your fucking stripper down a wishing well.” Noisy and vile from start to finish, this tune is assurance that Leftöver Crack is back and coming for everybody.
From a total lack of melody to “Don’t Shoot” and “Loneliness & Heartache,” Leftöver Crack shows off their talent for making nearly beautiful punk rock anthems replete with mid-tempo beats, octave guitar leads and even some banjo and acoustic guitar. The uninitiated may find this development more a lack in direction than anything else, but, as discussed earlier, this is what Leftöver Crack does. Within their musical tapestry this makes perfect sense. It’s pure, unadulterated expression. Considering their politics revolve around a want for total freedom, it not only matches their body of work, it matches their ethos.
“System Fucked” is the first example of Leftöver Crack’s recreational use of ska music on Constructs of the State. Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy lends his legendary vocals to this tune, which will likely excite any punk fan past or present. Dramatic and powerful, this is a biting indictment of the United States tempered with a bouncy, fun ska vibe. Afterward, however, the band descends into the Slayer-esque “Slave to the Throne.” A grimy opening riff followed by blistering drums and tremolo picking, this tune is a thrash metal and/or Leftöver Crack fan’s dream.
The pacing takes a slight deviation with “Last Legs.” It’s a slow, clean-picked lament in its opening minute. It does build, however, from sonic depression into hopeful melody before finally returning to the band’s signature speed. It’s a hellishly good song that breaks up the scatterbrained nature of the record smack-dab in the center.
The remainder of the album follows a similar pattern to the opening half, “Vicious Constructs” and “The War at Home” the true stand-outs on this side. Leave it to Leftöver Crack to have the ability to pull at heartstrings with their musicianship while ripping your guts out with their often bleak lyrics sprinkled with their brand of brutal truth. Again, that’s their impressive versatility on full display, giving listeners some excellent tuneage while cramming some reality down their throats.
While there’s nothing very surprising or new about Constructs of the State, making the choice not to change is as powerful as changing. Coming back now, during perhaps the most tenuous era of American politics, racial relations, foreign policy and religious tomfoolery in recent history is no coincidence. Leftöver Crack railing against the world in the same exact way it did more than a decade ago is by design. But this is where music criticism and freeform expression tend to clash.
Leftöver Crack’s return is merited and important and nothing can change that. This issue is, now that a half-life of musical fandom has passed, the majority of their fans who threw middle fingers to the world listening to Fuck World Trade are now in suits and ties and looking back at their punk days in teary-eyed nostalgia—or laughing about it. So, despite how good Constructs of the State may be, are fans or former fans viewing this as a triumphant return, or a trip down memory lane? The band’s mission is to spit truth at anyone who’ll listen. But if there’s no one left to listen, or those listening want the songs that’ll remind them of who they were a decade ago without the desire to ever want to learn from those times, what then was the point of all this? The truth is there. Listen to Constructs of the State and you’ll see. But the presentation of that truth may be wrapped too tightly in the past. And there’s nothing more damaging than a Good Ol’ Days sentiment with which to bronze the past and look blindly toward the future.