Listeners will get about ten seconds into Perennial’s In the Midnight Hour, the guitar feedback swirling defiantly and menacingly, before the Connecticut-based art punks drop the airs, pull the rip-cord on the proceedings, and absolutely go for their throats. “Gonna take you to the skeleton dance,” one of the trio’s two frontpeople, Chelsey Hahn, shouts at the top of her lungs on the album opener. “Can you say 3, 4, 5, 6/ Yeah, it goes like this, it goes like this!” The song, all 70 seconds of it, is an utter blast explicitly cut for the sweaty heaves of mosh pits, a thrilling tightrope walk on the edge of the blade. It ends, illustrating the band’s mysterious blend of colors, with a Romero-esque, 30-second organ coda.
The record, whose 12 songs barely break the 22-minute mark, is knock-’em-dead brilliant, with each member of the trio offering hyper-pressurized sounds and eye-popping fluorescence that make them stand out from the crowd. The band are appearing here on their second LP and first appearance during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they sound like a well-oiled – and angry – little machine. Here’s your thesis: Perennial are shockingly on-point, doing something we do not hear from a lot of punks, blurring all sorts of influences and genres but still making music that’s electricity-birthed, bombastic, and life-affirming. In short, In the Midnight Hour is the first great punk LP of 2022.
Record highlights are tricky to break down because there are so many of them. First, turn to “Perennial in a Haunted House”, a vicious little tear of a tune where frontpeople Hahn and Chad Jewett alternately roar, “Yeah, yeah, yeah / Gimme gimme that heart-attack.” Or that’s what they could be saying; it’s wonderfully hard to tell behind that wall of barking guitars. “Hour of the Wolf”, a bruising barnburner, sounds like what would happen if the B-52s played a hardcore version of “Rock Lobster”. In between spirited vocal takes, Jewett offers these deliciously tinny little bon mots. The guitar on the hook-laced chorus is so elastic and fluid that parts of the song feel like a 1960s surf or trash outfit cut them.
“Soliloquy for Neil Perry” offers guitar that angularly shims and shimmies along with an understated pulse of Farfisa before the band launch into another mighty, anthemic chorus. “Tooth Plus Claw” punctuates its grinding guitar attack with lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” – you’ll never hear “This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper” the same way again. “Melody for a New Cornet” flirts with the bassy lurch of post-hardcore and noise-rock. The closing “Absolver” will launch listeners right out of the planet’s gravitational pull.
Lulls? Over the course of less than a half-hour, it’s hard to spot them. “Hey Eurydice”, an Ennio Morricone-esque bit of synth jazz, is a bit of a placeholder, but a necessary one. At the end of certain tracks, like the excellent opener “The Skeleton Dance”, the band offer low-pulse segues that sound as neuroses-inducing as they do out of place among all this clatter and claptrap. And that’s about the only reprieve you’ll find. The record, instead, is defined by moments like the ones on “Food For Hornets”, where Hahn breathlessly intones “Cut up the pattern, yeah, cut up the pattern” over and over until the roof comes crashing down. It’s an exhilarating moment on a record packed with them.
Hahn and Jewett are the clear stars of the LP (and then some) but kudos also should go to drummer Wil Mulhern, who manages to keep time through all of the insane stops and starts, and anchor the group’s cataclysmic conceits. When called upon to flash, though, Mulhern does just that, offering propulsive cymbal-hits, for example, on the closing of “Tooth Plus Claw”, a song that reminds you that, for all the experimental or avant leanings, these guys are here to rawk.
Perennial are still making a name for themselves in underground circles, playing the basement shows, and building a foundation, but In the Midnight Hour is one hell of a calling card. It’s not a perfect record, but it’s not trying to be one. Instead, it’s what you dial up on your car stereo when you’re looking to cruise with the windows down and scare your fellow drivers into a bit of submission. Now, go online and call it up and give these guys your heart attacks and downloads: you won’t regret it. — Justin Vellucci, PopMatters, Feb. 21, 2022