Just as a happenstance of exposure, I usually only write about Chicago music, but it’s time to pay tribute to some amazing folk punk coming out of the Michigan DIY scene. In January 2018, Rent Strike released IX, a 9-track masterpiece fit for endless replay.
Rent Strike is based out of Lansing, MI and is the child of John Warmb, whom in this album is a basically a one-man band. He writes and sings all the songs and also plays banjo, guitar and piano throughout the tracks. While the bulk is performed by John Warmb, the album is transparently a breathing testament to his community, featuring a long list of collaborating artists and contributions.
As with most art that ties together a group of diverse talent, the collaboration creates a well-rounded, complex sound that can fill a room. Rent Strike is well-known for a folk punk sound, and if you’ve peeked through past albums (JC+TP Demo or RENT STRIKE!! s/t), you know to expect raw, melodic instrumentation and exposed vocals.
However, IX shows a new range while hanging on to the ear for melody and irreverent lyricism. There’s still a dominating banjo or guitar driving each song, but with accents of melody vocals, upright bass, accordion, viola and more.
Warmb describes the work as “born out of a hyper-fixation on Tolkien and also [his] struggle with heroin addiction in younger days”. If the juxtaposition of this phrase was unexpected for you, that’s an accurate insight into the range of this album. The oscillation between mocking nihilism and raw vulnerability feels intimate and authentic.
At points there’s a harsh realism to the lyrics, delivered in an absolute rasp, as in the track “VIII – Shadow&Gloom”:
“But everything’s rotten! Everything’s rank! /
It all boils down into poisonous ash, /
then rains down on me in a vomitus mass.”
In the absolute antithesis to this, there’s track “VI – Don’t Let Love Bog You Down”, which features tender, melodic vocals and emotional pulls of the upright bass and viola. The lyrics are sweet and vulnerable, like a love song paying tribute to the light and dark realities of another.
It could be that that interpretation is completely wrong, but the fact is that IX is the kind of album you can sip a beer to and think about - which is all I demand of my music. The diverse range of this album gives it endless playability - you can purchase IX on Rent Strike’s BandCamp page.