In his priceless critique of Interpol’s El Pintor, Protomartyr singer Joe Casey examines why his band is often compared to the New York post-punk vets. “Not every band with a prominent bass and a low-voiced singer sounds like Joy Division just because your musical knowledge doesn’t stretch past them,” he gripes. When I first heard Institute, I was guilty of quite lazily, reacting with “sweet—this sounds like Unknown Pleasures.” For a lot of similarly gloomy, doomy type bands, the comparison is all too easy; but as Moses Brown declares on Institute’s latest EP, Salt, “nostalgia is fragile.” His accent might sound more Mancunian than his Austin, Texas roots should allow, but Salt still backs this statement, presenting a gentle push forward for the equally somber punk outfit.
Which isn’t a jab at the band’s last EP, a stirring self-titled release from early this year. During a show at now-defunct Greenpoint, Brooklyn venue Lulu’s, Institute proved their Texas hardcore pedigree (the band features members of Wiccans, Glue, and more) with a tight set of riot-inducing anarcho-punk. With Salt, their first release on Sacred Bones, this raw power finally translates. The EP finds Institute leaning closer towards the experimental, hinting at the possibility of an even sharper, more refined full-length to come.
Throughout five tracks of icy, classic-style punk, Salt remains sour. Bitter in flavor, it highlights gooey bass lines and lean, languid guitars that work in tandem to produce melodies so precise, they sting on contact. From the frantic opening rhythm of “Nausea”—like a feverish itch needing to be scratched—to the trance-like beat of “Familiar Stranger”, the genre’s usual suspects are at play, but Institute’s savage energy keeps dullness at bay. The EP’s many repeated mantras and phrases feel weighty, but are never trite. Belligerent and near-drunken in his vocal delivery, Brown’s statements are undeniably bold. “Salt of the earth, it don’t mean shit,” he spits on the EP title track. Still, his hostility verges on playful, like when he’s yelling, “immorality’s neat!”
By record’s end, though, Brown is losing control. “I spill the blooooood,” he moans on murky closer “An Absence”. Brown is possessed; he’s horrified, he’s thrilled, he’s finally reaching his climax. In a way, it mirrors the harsh, satisfying experience of Salt for its listener. Pushing through the darkness, Institute also push well past the limits their genre allows.