POW!, Hi-Tech Boom

Sjimon Gompers

POW!, Hi-Tech Boom [Castle Face Records]

A world caught up in a whirlwind of digitized distress, civic evolutions caught in the technocratic quicksand limbo, a city in the grips of class warfare, and Thee Oh Sees on pause; all of this and more informs the backdrop for POW!’s Hi-Tech Boom. The San Francisco group’s most realized work to date seeks therapy in the chaotic midst of times for both their beloved city, and the geographical move of their label boss John Dwyer from SF to LA (coinciding with the hiatus of his aforementioned flagship band). Hi-Tech Boom is born out of these circumstances and should be heard and understood in a disambiguated and objective manner that leaves the environmental baggage at the door-at least for a moment.

But it is difficult not to apply a degree of these deconstructive interpretive methods and listening modes for a few reasons. POW!’s hometown has seen the malevolent rise of Ellis Act inflicted evictions coinciding to the rise of this current start-up bubble genesis. Dwyer has fanned the fire in his penning of a foreword-style prose piece/press release for the full-length that has caused a diversionary row of sound off comment polemics already in the Bay Area. The incendiary prologue reads like so in the following excerpt:

San Francisco has long been filling up with noobs…but now we face the most dangerous, the most egregious and blandest of them all…people with lots of money.
NOBODY can square-up a joint like rich people.
POW! have written a punk eulogy to our fair city.
Evictions!
Pop up shops!
Parklets!
Specialty shops!
What the fuck is happening???

There goes the taqueria that used to kick ass, replaced by a deli with a line of assholes a mile long. 'I wonder what the sandwiches are like and do they make their own salsa?' It's enough to be the catalyst for a bad day or a great fucking song.

Push the Dwyer-Oh Sees connection, endorsement, and indictment of SF’s techie bourgeoisie invasion out of the way and the remains are a protest album, one more far out than a lost record from the Sees. Like the way Prince Rama’s Top Ten Hits of the End of the World placed the stakes of the impending apocalypse in the guises of various different fictitious bands, an array of assorted Armageddon scenarios, and various styles; Tech Boom is a concept record that fights against the ominous movement facing the Bay’s renting residents as if avenging an intergalactic uprising. As POW!'s Byron Blum told us, “We started to hear the stories from our friends, and how difficult it's become to sustain living in SF, and you could feel the stress. It was when we started to notice all the construction and redevelopment going on all across the city. We felt obligated to write something about it.”

By the time you have strapped yourself in for the ride, the feedback is meshing against the rising synth line of malicious malware coding on the 20 seconds of terror that is, “GLITCH”. And this is where the hi-concept/lo-tech aesthetic takes off into battle against the nu-tech merchants of Market Street’s newly dubbed ‘Cloud Corridor’ on “Hope Dealers”. These snake oil salesmen are up against POW!’s “psychic warfare” and the infectious gob and stomp chants of, “fuck the hope dealers”. The hate against the high rise Rolls Royce riders continues on “Vertical Slum” and “Sugi Walks”, as delusions are fed, exploited, and exploded into the, “earthquake sunshine” on back to back rocket reducers.

Measured uses of guitars and keyboards are one of the keys of how POW! continues to keep their audio variety as a multi-dimensional affair. “Switchboard Scientist” rides a vague dub center to describe the apparatus that drives a different kind of Babylon system. Sirens are emulated in the klaxon effect of, “Cyber-Attack!!” , to the title track’s rise up against the “digital rodeo”, and the Fahrenheit flames of the closer “Fire Hose”.

But this is still one aspect of Hi-Tech Boom, which goes on the counter-attack with a tone of anti-nostalgia. “66” spins on spiraling electronic effects that unleash pure, perfect guitar aggression with a song fit for Highway 66 itself, but better as a knock on the affectations and absurdity of the “passenger side” posturing worship of the so called-decade of love in a style more proto than post-punk. “Roll up your sleeves, he likes the 60s”. At other points on the album like on “Shoes (PLEH)”, POW! almost takes on an upbeat power indie pop arrangement where they feel like a completely different band from the former exercise of fighting the tech onslaught with a clever reverse-engineered sonic assault.

Not all arrowlike attacks make their intended marks. Take the well intentioned pointed play on symbol identifying indicators “@ The Station”. Handled properly, “@ The Station” might further attack the digitization of human identity into nothing more than an individual accounts prefix. This could have been song that ties the whole album together in motif, and message potency. But “@ The Station” does find Byron’s muffled delivery lost in the Station To Station transitory ether of Melissa’s rhythm, Aaron’s ghosting keys, and even Blum’s own guitar strums. By the closer, “Fire Hose”, the entire Tech Boom threat becomes fully realized by the band as a protest album dressed up in a indie aesthetic fit for a midnight b-movie. So grab a slice of “Love and Haight” pizza, as the final “battle royale” takes place over at the Upper Haight’s Club Deluxe here on this hard and humorous outro.

Hi-Tech Boom succeeds at being a concept album, regardless of whether its own punk, and DIY upbringings would want that designation. Perhaps more apropos, it's a work that utilizes the sci-fi exterior as a necessary vehicle for crying foul at the irresponsible natures of the new order from the technocratic echelon. A larger question is how this will sound years from now when perhaps this portion of history and working class struggle has been forgotten, and the surrounding dramas vanished from the public’s consciousness. Even then, Hi-Tech Boom will remain a blistering article of defiance of its own elaborate science, a reminder of the inherent-gravitational-fallibilities of these new start up IPOs, a blistering lo-tech sonic-boom in the face of the satanic majesties that lord over SF's new hi-tech wave of disfiguration.

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