Vancouver’s Eric Axen and Bart Newman keep their racket on post-punk-pop sealed tightly on Hermetic’s latest release Civilized City. A guitar/drums duo, Hermetic is less inspired by the blues-rock of the White Stripes and Black Keys, and are more influenced by sweet-tooth post-hardcore groups like Jawbreaker and Mission to Burma.
Axen and Newman squeeze everything they can out of their instruments to fill in the negative space around their songs, adding a touch of harmonica or strings here and there for flavour. Axen flashes between fuzzed-out melodic riffing and distorted strumming best demonstrated on “You Can’t Go Home Again” and “Sunday Best.” All the while, Newman’s busy, yet still toe-tapping, beats perfectly complement the angular guitar parts.
Civilized City’s all liberal arts lyrics are sweetly sung in an upper register, gliding over jagged melodies on Axen’s baritone guitar on tracks like “Nixon Song” and “Revenge Comedy.” Axen and Newman’s voices blend seamlessly, often sounding like two Morrisseys sans the caterwauling and posturing.
The award for best patriotic shout-out on the album goes to “Preventative Arrest,” for the line “I shared my lunch with the Canada goose today/ So tame that it never thought once about trying to fly away.” That song, along with the title track and “Curmudgeons Club,” may be familiar to those who are lucky enough to own Hermetic’s split EP with Plus Perfect. These well-worn tunes make a triumphant return on this full-length, featuring tweaked production and tighter, more confident performances.
This two-man group’s powers are fully on display on “Expatriate Act,” the album’s strongest track, which rides a gently bouncy melody to a quietly anthemic conclusion, feeling simultaneously personal and global, proving big statements can come in small packages.