Release Date: 28.08.2020
Record Label: Venn Records
For Fans Of: Jeff Rosenstock, Fresh, Gold Key
In theory, punk music should be about tearing up the rule-book, ignoring preconceptions and following your gut wherever it might take you. However sometimes it feels like this gets lost as bands try to fit in with a certain scene or sound. So when a band like Waco come along and combine so many different musical influences and styles – and more importantly – do it so well, it shows how vibrant and alive punk music can still be when a band decides to be bold and find their own voice.
The album is the first to be released with new bassist James Robinson after the tragic death of the band’s friend Chris Cowley in 2018, and even in the aftermath of such loss, the record is full of hope and positivity. Listening to songs like ‘Learn to Live Again’ and ‘Busy Livin’ it is impossible to not feel empowered and notice the spring they put in your step. Even ‘Wrecking Ball’, the song which directly addresses Cowley’s passing, feels much more like an ‘after the dust settles’ moment frankly acknowledging and dealing with the pain but refusing to let it become overwhelming. It feels like that idea is the core theme behind Hope Rituals and is what gives the record so much of its power, it’s an admission that things often suck and can be draining, but they are worth battling through. ‘Dark Before The Dawn’ shows a similar approach to a much different subject, the song acts as a rallying call for people to just be a bit fucking nicer to each other and call out any kind of discrimination, once more openly acknowledging the problem but also making it clear that we can and will build a better world.
What is even more impressive is how Waco embed these themes into the album by sheer breadth of musical influence, showcasing how vibrant and amazing all of these different styles are. Hope Rituals might be the first ‘punk’ record where it’s possible to hear the influence of Gary Moore, Queen, Tom Petty, elements of disco music and much more. Yet it never feels bloated, overblown or like anything other than a two-finger salute to arbitrary genre barriers and all the shit which life throws at us. Every track seems to finish in a completely different place to where it started yet the changes are so subtle and well done that it’s never jarring or feels out of place. ‘Baracuda’ opens with a beautiful blues guitar lick but concludes by verging on big stoner rock riffage, ‘Physio’ hits the turbo button on The White Stripes style garage-rock, and the aforementioned ‘Busy Livin’ is pure power-pop bliss.
Amongst all this though there is an energy and a hint of psychedelic influence that means the band live up to the ‘Cosmic-Punk’ tag they have given themselves. This is probably best showcased on closer ‘A New Future’ which is a full on epic in every sense of the word. With it Waco have somehow managed to create a track which sounds like Rush might if they’d ever decided to don mohawks and bullet-belts. It’s something that could have easily gone so wrong but instead ends up as the crowning moment on the record.
In many ways Hope Ritual is the record which we all need this year. It is impossible to listen to and not feel empowered and alive by the end. It’s overarching message of hope, unity and feeling that we can get through anything if people just stick together seems to be more and more relevant every day. However hopeful records have been written before, and Waco go one step further and back it all up by putting those ideas into practise, blending together such a vast range of sounds and styles that traditionally have no business being together. Forget any kind of sonic template, this record shows that being defiant, bold and challenging yourself will always be punk as fuck.
Recommended Tracks: ‘A New Future’, ‘Busy Livin’