The four men of Institute recently released Catharsis, their debut album, on the Sacred Bones label. They also recently played Los Angeles. I missed the show. I might have been too hung over. Or I might have been out of town, which is a better excuse. Either way, I was pissed that I didn’t see the show. Everyone at the bar the next night was raving. Punks raving over punks. I’ll catch them at Beskertown.
Institute do not like to do press, because punks do not do press. However, they did do one interview with Jane Pain aka Miss Jane Chardiet about their first EP. She gave them the approval stamp. Frontman Moses Brown told Jane Pain that he is “disappointed with [his] childhood,” that he drags around the memories like a big bag of rocks. But Brown’s complaints are not what you would expect. His dad didn’t rape him or blow his college fund on a pyramid scheme. In fact, his parents left him to his own devices, and he forced himself to be good. He did not let himself “have any fun.” “I was super regimented,” Brown says. “When I didn’t have something to do I would wake up and skateboard for three hours and then ride my bike home and…always do the right thing. Or what I thought was the right thing.”He’s not making up for lost time or anything. He just wants to sing about how “stupid” he thinks he is. “I always say that I wish I had a regular childhood, like, got in trouble, pissed off my parents, partied in high school, but I didn’t do any of that. I got nothing out of childhood, I ignored it,” he said. “I feel screwed up now because of it.”
When I was a kid, I was a competitive figure skater. I spent every day after school on the ice, even training at 5:00 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays before class. All summer was spent at the rink and then doing cardio training, ballet, pilates and swimming. It was all for skating. I even competed in pairs until I got tits and an ass and surpassed my partner in both weight and height. (A real confidence-booster at the age of 16.) I did not let myself have any fun, but my self-discipline was a result of a sport that allowed no room for anything but self-blame. When I flubbed my double axel, it was no one’s fault but my own. I beat myself up. I internalized. There was no idea that “it was her fault, not mine.” I knew who screwed up. I like Brown’s pity party because he’s the host and the only guest. What’s better than mocking yourself for two releases in a row? Catharsis, for all its dark, slurred punk songs, is like Brown’s self-inflicted neg.
I loved this album from the first song “Perpetual Ebb.” It combines hooky instrumental parts with indecipherable vocals. That balance is clearly important to the band. Catharsis is recorded with a cheap, Dollar King clarity by producer Ben Greenberg. It’s not sulking behind a bunch of garbage noise, but it’s not big, bright and stupid either. Brown’s flippant nihilism is attractive. “Admit I’m Shit,” “Cheerlessness” and “Leathernecks” are great punk songs that know melody matters. (Melody is pretty much the one thing I give a shit about in this selfish genre of trash.) “The joke is that our lives/Somehow bitters/somehow blinds,” Moses sings on “Leatherneck.” Sometimes Brown is romantic and sexually confused (“A leatherneck feels alright/For a brief time”), like an embarrassing diary entry no one wants to admit they relate to. Other times he’s funny and alive. “This moon will never wax/It will always wane,” he fumbles on “Perpetual Ebb.” “Why come when friends and fruitless lovers/Look to me for shit.” Institute cite Warsaw and Crisis as influences, which makes sense if you aren’t talking about Brown. When I listen to him sing, I think of Fang’s Sammy McBride. “Cheerlessness” is like Fang’s “Suck and Fuck,” all drooling out, sexless sex. If Brown’s annunciation was a penis, it would be flaccid, post-fuck, just waiting to go home.
I can’t even really pick apart songs on Catharsis, because even though I doubt the tracking order was that much of a sleepless decision for the Texans, it flows together like a complete whole. It drags when you want it to drag. It wakes you up just as you have nodded into comfort. It gets weird as soon as you assume it’s ending. Institute is not a Google-friendly band name. (There’s a bunch of shitty bands with the same name, including Gavin Rossdale’s project with Helmet’s Chris Traynor that they did after Rossdale realized “Glycerine” was getting called one of the most annoying songs of all time.) But the guys in Institute don’t care. Why would they? Or maybe they do? Maybe in ten years Brown will make an album that talks about how disappointed he is in himself for how he acted in all his bands. “I should have been more Google-friendly. I’m disappointed in how stupid I was,” he’ll say. But, for now, he’s made an album so good that maybe for once he can cut himself a little bit of slack.