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Formed in the dehydrated in-between spaces of Los Angeles, Hit Bargain are an art punk outfit determined to create new shapes from the building blocks of a well-worn genre. Comprised of Nora Singh (vocals) Mike Barron (guitar and vocals), Anton Hochheim (drums), and Sean Monaghan (bass), current and former members of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cold Beat, North Highlands, These Are Powers and Beach Fossils, the band apply their considerable pedigree to crafting a sound that is at once inventive, cerebral and rawly engaging.
Named for a now shuttered Echo Park 99 cent store, the band was formed after Singh was introduced to Hochheim and Barron by a mutual friend, who Singh notes, later became Katy Perry's personal chef. They quickly found noteriety in LA as a result of their unique style of performance - an intense and physical blend of hardcore and performance art, in part inspired by the mid-century European avant garde Situationist art movement, and perhaps best encapsulated by a series of shows during which Singh performed standing on the head and torso of a half-naked trampling fetishist.
They released their self-titled debut EP in late 2016 - a tightly composed compendium of LA (Black Flag, The Adolescents) and DC (Bad Brains, Fugazi) punk influences loosely conceptualized around themes of gender, power and the film Die Hard. With the release the band began to build momentum outside their hometown, receiving praise from outlets like Stereogum, BrooklynVegan, FADER, who hailed Singh's performances as "a whole new kind of feminisim in music," and Noisey, who credited Singh with "tak[ing] us beyond the visceral thrills of punk while still indulging them."
Now, Hit Bargain are preparing to release their debut LP, Potential Maximizer, a scintillating 30 minute blast of confrontational post-punk that more than makes good on the band's early promise. The album was written and recorded in 2017, with much of the writing taking place over distance, when Singh was in "self-imposed exile" from the band's spiritual home, living in Ohio.
"I reconnected with someone I knew when I lived in New York and then had to go dig him out of Ohio," says Singh. "We didn’t intend to make an LA or California inspired album, though there is inspiration to be found here, but at the same time Ohio was informative. It’s the rust belt, and like a lot of American cities the main industry has bottomed out or doesn’t exist. The economy is reeling from that. Jobs are being shipped overseas and it’s a red state. Our neighbours had a Trump sign on their lawn and people would speak Spanish to me because they thought I was vaguely Mexican."
The album was recorded over a three day period when she returned to the West Coast, with Mark Rains (Death Valley Girls, E-40) at Station House Studio in Echo Park, while Singh was 6 months pregnant with her first child. Notably her performances did not lessen in their intensity during her pregnancy as she was still throwing herself off drum risers during her third trimester and began incorporating her breast milk into the act.
Singh describes the album as a "soundtrack for the present," it's 10 songs approaching a range of subject matter with an unblinking ferocity, and consistently imaginative musicianship. The clattering opener, "Hell Is Real" tackles "the ennui of late stage Capitalism," and bears the influence of Singh's Ohio exile, drawing inspiration from a mural in her partner's town that affirms the reality of eternal damnation amidst the quotidian crumbling of the rust belt. "Capitulate," the album's lead single, flashes the band's dynamic range at break neck tempos, and sees Singh interrogate the ambiguities of consent back-dropped by LA's queer scene, the urgency of her refrain of "capitulate/under the body of another" intensified by Barron's dexterous, spiraling guitar work. "Knavs" finds a post-punk sweet spot somewhere between Gang of Four and Comsat Angels, the rhythm section slinking with quiet menace under Singh's musings on 1984, and the dynamics of Melania and Donald Trump's marriage. "Tourist of My Desire" is a meditation on sex tourism abetted by guitar work that somehow splits the difference between Burzum and Wire. As a whole it displays an omnivorous appetite for the possibilities of aggressive music, while presenting what feels like an immersive and totalizing snap shot of a perspective in our paranoid, and absurd cultural moment.
Despite the urgency and deeply held convictions that underpin the songs, Singh is quick to point out that Hit Bargain retain a sense of play, and in some instances, a twisted kind of humour, which serves to heighten the impact of their music and performances.
"I think the appeal is political agitation," says Singh. "I'm fascinated by power dynamics, but what we want to do ultimately is transcend this dynamic, these scripts, sublimate this pain, and then we want to play. I am playing. I look serious, I sound serious, I mean what I'm saying, but I'm playing. Pretty much everything I say is not meant to be taken 100% seriously...but I’m serious about it."