“History is a band that doesn’t exist,” reads the bio. While that may seem like a pretty cryptic way to sell the post-punk duo, the truth is pretty damn close to that. History’s history, if you’ll pardon the expression, is full of a multitude of reasons why they shouldn’t exist, not the least of which is the almost ten-year gap between when their self-titled debut was recorded and when it finally got to see the light of day. Regardless of how or why, the important thing is it’s here and it feels like it came not a moment too soon.
History’s origins trace all the way back to 2011, when bassist Daisy Caplan was in the midst of a series of bureaucratic and interpersonal setbacks with his main project, Foxy Shazam. Having just moved back home and living in their parent’s basement, Caplan had some understandable aggression pent-up. So what’s one to do? Obviously, when you’ve got the talent and ingenuity that Caplan does, you pick up your instruments and you write the most aggressive, no-holds-barred, stream-of-consciousness 13 minutes of music that you can, without any sort of editing or further reflection. “Songs were written on a fretless bass in about as long as they take to play,” says Caplan. Drums were whacked with baseball bats in lieu of sticks, unlicensed samples were chopped up into unrecognizable bits, and the creativity flowed freely.
All that was needed was some vocals laid down, so Caplan cold-emailed Leo Ashline, being a fan of his previous project. Ashline agreed to take the challenge on, and the two kept in touch after the recording. Things seemed to be on the up-and-up for History, and Ashline and Caplan actually relocated to Cincinnati to start the band properly. It was here that Ashline’s drug habit caught up with him, and things got out of control. Ashline got into trouble and ended up in rehab, which he fortunately credits as a turning point for him. “Without these songs, without the process and the events that led to their creation, and (most importantly) without Daisy, there would be no Street Sects [Ashline’s current project], and I can say with complete certainty that I would not be alive today.” So, there’s at least that. But it took many more years of timing for the album to actually be released, and the duo have not collaborated since then, being busy with other projects in the interim. Then the question is, why now? “It is a transition from hopelessness to hope, from a total lack of self-worth to the beginnings of a sense of confidence and newfound purpose,” which seems like a pretty damn good mission statement to me.
Take one part post-punk, one part regular punk, one part industrial and a dash of electro-blues-funk, put them in a blender and buzz it until it’s almost unrecognizable anymore and you might get something that approximates, but doesn’t quite fully capture History. It really is what you would expect the baby of Street Sects and Foxy Shazam to sound like. Ashline’s trademark abrasive edge in the vocals and production are immediately apparent, and tracks like “Breadline” and “LandHammers” smack of the kind of in-your-face funky bombast that Caplan is known for. The album absolutely flies by, but in that short runtime is about a metric ton of ideas. Songs move incredibly rapidly from huge industrial beats and heavy guitars to glitched out samples and noise to wailed vocals and throbbing basslines, all in under two minutes for most of them. You can definitely get a good picture of the aggression and frustration that both members felt during the making of this record. The important thing that stands out to me is that, even though this album was recorded in 2011, it’s so unlike anything else I’ve ever heard that it definitely feels like it could have been recorded a week ago. It’s a very fresh take on the post-punk formula, although there is a large part of this that defies any conventional classification.
For everything that stood in the way of making and releasing this album, it feels like it came at just the right time. Maybe that’s just how things work out sometimes: this album was meant to find a home here and now, and I’m pretty glad that it did. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, and even though it’s already almost a decade old, it still smacks of clever innovation and the kind of outside-the-box thinking that you would expect from the minds behind it. “History may not have existed, but that didn’t stop it from being a hidden influence on the lives of those involved. History will periodically emerge as an ongoing project,” closes the bio. Here’s hoping.