It’s not until “Splendid Little War,” the 11th and final track on the scowling debut from Durham’s The Dry Heathens, that you’ll really get Darren Sink, the trio’s writer, guitarist and frontman. Across the record’s preceding 10 tracks, the band hammers at feedback-and-vitriol punk laced with shots of hook and twang, like Drive By Trucker Mike Cooley woodshedding with Social Distortion. Above those rock lashers, Sink seems like another badass who was once in love, putting his feelings down in spittle-lipped bursts above a heavy rhythm section that swings as though it’s his bodyguard. But “Splendid Little War” forgoes the annals of love for an American political philippic, lashing out at war andmore generallythis country’s yellow-belly, Bible-backed corrosion of justice. “Armed with the Golden Rule, time to rain it down,” Sink sings, turning the Christian idiom into equal parts demand and threat. Sink uses a selfish political climate as a big metaphor for the hateful woman in his life, offering manifesto as request and conclusion: If people stop acting like assholes, interpersonal and international relations would probably fare well.
This universal culmination puts the 10 very personal tracks before it in proper light: During “Pieces,” Sink turns voyeuristic, making his audience uncomfortable with the grisly details of his breakup. He won’t drive near the red light where he first said he loved her, but now he can’t forgive her for throwing a bedside photo: “We both know that the target was my heart and not my head.” One track later, he’s tunneling to the roots of her neuroses, or her need to “[break] every goddamn rule that her daddy tanned into her hide.” He glimpses her as a late-night phantom on one track, and, on more than one occasion, she’s harmful to his health. Whether talking paramours or presidents, you’ll probably understand (and chant with) the feeling.
The Dry Heathens releases First Contact with Ground at James Joyce Pub Saturday, May 31, at 10 p.m. The show is free, and Red Collar and the Dirty Little Heaters join the bill.