Did live music exist during the height of COVID lockdowns? In a practical sense, obviously. Live music exists wherever people are playing instruments and making melodies, and there were many well-intentioned virtual concerts that ultimately created lovely experiences. I watched several and am glad I did.
But that’s not all live music is, is it? Last year, Julian Cashawn Pratt, the lead singer and banjo player of New York City’s Show Me the Body, explained why the hardcore band declined to participate in any Zoom concerts: “For us, if safety isn’t being risked, we’re not playing. If it’s not a volatile ceremony that we’re a part of, there’s no reason for us to play.” The band helped organize remote self-defense classes and ran clothing drives, but kept their own music mostly to themselves.
Now, with the release of their third album, Trouble the Water, it’s easy to see why. This is physical, rowdy music, based on the idea that nothing could be more hardcore than collective love and respect.
The album’s title comes from one of the hardcore moments in the Torah: when the water of the Nile turns to blood in the first of 10 plagues. Pratt, who like the rest of the band is Jewish, has spoken of the “metaphysical reaction” to his music.
“Trouble the water is when Moses troubled the River Nile, he united the tribes of Judaica and united everybody. He created a spell. It’s also about creating family, creating ceremonies. It’s alchemy … how do we circumvent our general and current reality and make something more beautiful, more than we could imagine before?”
Pratt’s lyrics have a rambling specificity to them, one where you’re not quite sure where things are going to go. It’s the talk-singing of groups like IDLES, buoyed by head-banging riffs and dark, mood-setting electronics. On a track like “Boils Up,” Pratt says he “tried to open the door but it’s already locked / I tried to swallow but it got stuck.” A longing to escape permeates the album, with a solution expected to be found in the mosh pit.
On the hardcore-noise track “Radiator,” Pratt sings of being “covered in paint, covered in grease / Covered in hate, covered in streets / Covered in pain, trying to ease / I’m trying to run but it follows me / Stays stuck in my teeth” as almost funky drums burst into the background. He keeps screaming about “things I’ve done that follow me / things I’ve done, things I’ve done” and he evokes a desperation to survive.
The entire album is pulsating with life. “I just wanna feel what I’ve never felt before,” Pratt says on “War Not Beef.” Trouble the Water is a hardcore album searching for something more, trying to create magic out of a mosh. And it’s so good that you can feel it even by yourself.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.