Over the last two decades, Hamilton has built up a reputation for having one of the best punk/hardcore scenes in the country. Contenders' self-titled offering simultaneously cements them as the city’s finest export in twenty years and offering Aotearoa one of the most compelling, fun punk records in recent years.
What becomes apparent over four-song physical format or seven songs on Spotify is that Contenders are already experts at balance. They manage to merge melodic songwriting with scuzzy guitar work that makes you want to dance and throw stuff. The raw energy of Dead Kennedys and the catchy, sarcastic snarl of Poly Styrene flows through Contenders but while there is a clear musical lineage to their sound, they pull the threads of their influences together in such a way that it sounds fresh and urgent.
Recorded at The Porch, Contenders is a considerable transformation from their React EP. Their angular, post-punk sound has smoothed out somewhat while managing to maintain its bite. This is most obvious when you listen to Cry Baby a song that made its way onto both records. Lead singer Cilla McIntosh is not only the most charismatic live performer I have seen live twice, she has a powerful voice in both the traditional and punk sense, so its good to hear it being brought forward in the mix. In the latest recording, she bristles with bemused spite that threatens to spill over into chaos at any moment, while her bandmates find that elusive spot between tightness and relaxed confidence, acting as the perfect counterpoint.
Dead Brain Rot hit number 1 on the bFM charts and it’s easy to hear why. With its rollicking drum work and frenetic guitar work, this knockout song clocks in at a mere 1 minute 45 seconds. Given that none of these songs hit the three-minute mark, there is absolutely no room for error, highlighting again the band's obvious finesse.
This small yet perfectly formed record is a satisfying listen and I for one cannot wait to hear what they do next.
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Released: 31 May 2019