THE DEVIL YOU KNOW – THE COATHANGERS (2019)
The Coathangers have always found cool ways of blending hardcore punk with pop, in much the same way that guitarist Julia Kugel’s higher, poppier voice finds cool ways to blend with drummer Stephanie Luke’s low-pitched growl. On their last album to date, The Devil You Know, they achieve that blend more seamlessly than on any other album in their thirteen years together. From the first track “Bimbo,” which combines Kugel’s sweet earworm melody with Luke’s insistent bridges, there is a maturity to their newest songs that moves them out of their hardcore high school roots, without losing any of their energy.
There may be nothing as screechy as “Johnny” from their early days, but the trio is still fully capable of pounding out an angry pop anthem like “F the NRA,” which plays like a less-affected version of “Pumped Up Kicks,” or the aggressive guitar punch of “Step Back.”
Kugel remains the primary vocalist, but Luke contributes a marvelous skittish blues number on the Faulkneresque “5 Farms,” and is a constant vocal counterweight. Whether it’s the oozing grunge of “Crimson Telephone” or the hypnotic vocal blending of “Stranger Danger,” the Coathangers know how to take songs to explosive conclusions. That applies to every song except the last – a haunting acoustic prayer called “Lithium.”
Immediately on the heels of The Devil You Know, the band confronted catastrophe when Kugel began having serious vocal struggles, which eventually led to her having to completely rebuild her voice. They have all been exploring other projects since then, but hopefully, the trio will reunite for more albums. It would be a shame to lose them just as they were hitting a new artistic maturity.