A bunch of smelly crusties hopping trains, squatting empty houses, trashing dumpsters and busking on the streets is not an unusual countercultural image in the post-modern capitalist wasteland we’re all living in. Modern day acoustic punk has been incorporating the rich tradition of the American bluegrass and folk music, namely the famous left-wing political songwriters such as Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger, mixing it with the DIY ethics and anarchist message ranging from anarcho-punk pioneers CRASS to the contemporary crust, black metal and hardcore punk music and aesthetics. Surely, there are many similarities of the uncompromising lifestyle of traing-hopping crusties in ripped up Leftöver Crack shirts, dreadlocks and self-made patches with the hobos of the 30’s and the original hipster and beatnik culture throughout the 50’s and 60’s. The rebellion in music didn’t come with punk and playing acoustic music doesn’t require renting a van for touring or paying for expensive musical instruments. Playing acoustic means you’re able to make your own DIY instruments such as dumpster-dived percussions, washboard, washtub bass, vibraphone, etc. and play literally anywhere you go.
The whole DIY, anarchist and truly inspirational scene in terms of creativity, radical message, poetic rage and artistic freedom has been perfected by the Riot Folk Collective (Ryan Harvey, Mark Gunnery, Shannon Murray, etc.), Erik Petersen/Mischief Brew and their label Fistolo Records, and many more. Although there is one name that stands out way beyond anything else and that’s definitely Blackbird Raum.
Blackbird Raum’s fifth record is the most ambitious, epic and musically astonishing folk punk/acoustic record that I’ve ever heard. Their 2013’s “False Weavers” LP was the folk punk perfection but it’s not even closely ambitious as “Destroying”, which is a collaboration work with a real Dublin’s Irish folk band called Lynched and recorded in San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone studio with famous engineer Jay Pellici (Deerhoof, Om, Sleater-Kinney). And while the lo-fi “Swidden” (2008) and “Under The Starling Host” (2009) were much more punk than folk, Blackbird Raum’s latest endeavors are way beyond any other folk-punk record. I would rather put “Destroying” next to Panopticon’s folk-influenced anarchist black metal magnum opus “Kentucky” rather than any other folk punk record.
Destroying’s opener “Whitebled” sets off the pace that this will be a relentless swirl of bagpipes, banjo, accordion, mandolin and washboard folk punk rebellion with hard-hitting but extremely well-thought and darkly poetic lyrics full of metaphors about dismantling the bases of industrial civilization, capitalism, environmental destruction. “Last Legs” is our wake up call to stop being “like tractionless wheels” that “spin in place and throw up mud”, that the machine is already so obsolete and oppressive in its core that we have no more chances left but to destroy. “Grist Mill” is an angrier continuation to “Last Legs” and probably my favorite song on the record with its ripping fast banjo and accordion. Then it comes the heavily Celtic influenced and slower “Reveille”, followed by “Cadillac Desert” and the amazing poem “Adder” dealing with the environmental destruction by greedy corporations. Up next is the uplifting “Hecatombe/Augustin’s” that’s probably about the martyrs and warriors fighting back the machine, “not for something greater than you / we are a part of all this too.” Then it comes “The Man In The Bog” with a deep voice spoken word over a droning background sounds evolving into an all-out instrumental celtic folk outplay, like an acoustic/folk take on Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The record ends with the 6-minutes long atheist poem “All That Praises Heaven Slanders Earth.” that’s basically saying ‘No Gods, No Masters’ in the poetic way of the whole record: “in the sky there is no chair / no throne among the starry vault / no king who does smile or frown / the watchful cosmic shepherd / is a vanity of man”.
What else? The record’s visual outlook has been designed by New York’s illustrator Angela Rizza in her distinctive Tolkien influenced fantasy style. If you want to find out more about Blackbird Raum, I’ll recommend you to read their interview in No Depression magazine.