In tarot, the Nine of Swords represents worrying yourself sick over problems in your life. Obsessing over things to the point of causing physiological as well as psychological damage. To anyone who has lied awake at night, staring at a ceiling, probing the shameful or infuriating events of the day as one would a bad tooth, I Can't Stand My Own Face is the hardcore for you.
Ripping through six songs in eleven minutes, the EP begins with a valley-peak-valley progression which starts with the wordless intro track “The Chain” that leads directly into the pulsating “Watch”—a track that expands and contracts in time before finally, furiously exploding. The kinetic energy from this detonation carries through to the rest of the album, not waiting for you to catch your breath and assaulting you with the next song before finally depositing a newer, angier you into the city to wreak havoc.
Tearing through you, the vocals pierce and cry as they fall in and out of pace with the instruments with a delivery that's, at times, more concerned with being a cathartic expulsion than a song. There's no attempt at singing, instead going from calm, barely controlled speaking right into throat-destroying screams of an uncontrollable rage. The lyrics are both specific while being abstracted enough to make the impetus for these outbursts difficult to pinpoint. We are given slices of time and what a bit of what seems like reactions that have been mulled over anxiously so long they overtake the rest of the thinker's life.
We're also given repeated refrains ready-made to be shouted back: “Is this what you're looking for? Isn't this what you're looking for?” and “It's the last thing I want but the first thing I take.” At times the lyrics can fall apart (“plant trees, smoke trees, love yourself, help me”?) but even these missteps are delivered with a steely-eyed gaze and unwavering conviction.
Taken against their previous self-titled release from December, I Can't Stand My Own Face already shows a maturation in songwriting. Their first EP comes across as a standard hardcore release, as though Nine of Swords' trajectory is one of genre exploration, becoming comfortable as a band instead of building their own sound and identity. There are flashes of what they will become, musically—listen to “Rain” and compare it to “Watch”—yet most of this earlier EP is standard young, angry hardcore. The lyrics are less abstracted and the music is more or less straightforward.
I Can't Stand My Own Face is exciting to listen to and gives you angry choruses to chew on and spit out while the music makes you go-punch-a-cop crazy. With this new release, Nine of Swords has come far fairly quickly. The EP shows a willingness to break out of the rote formalism which informs much of hardcore as a genre while still remaining squarely rooted in that musical world—a promising line for a young band to toe.