Given the current circumstances, the future for small music scenes like hardcore is uncertain. Gigs can’t be played and bands can’t be paid, so what are bands to do? Recorded releases give a band an audience, but records are expensive and don’t pay the bills; performances pay the bills, and now bands can’t perform, leaving them with outstanding invoices, recording fees and unsold merchandise. Bands are making no money and their livelihoods may be at risk. A good way to support your favorite artists during these times is to purchase their work or merchandise on Bandcamp, until they can finally start touring again.
Sunshine has always been associated with good times and good moods. It’s a universal feeling, eagerly waiting for spring to come after a long, cold winter. It’s impossible to have a bad day if it’s sunny, so we always look forward to the next day of sunshine. This isn’t exactly the case in places with continuous sun, like Santa Cruz, California. A sunny day is just another day, with no guarantees of a pleasant charm. Go-go vocalist Sam Ciaramitaro and the rest of his fun-loving wrecking crew, the hardcore punk band Drain, know that better than just about anyone.
The Santa Cruz-based band plays a brand of hardcore that’s distinctly them; their music is fast, aggressive and constantly on the verge of losing control, but most importantly, it’s an absolute blast to listen to. They’re heavily influenced by ’80s thrash metal and incorporate that sound seamlessly with the typically slower paced leanings of hardcore. However, Drain sets itself apart from the fray with leadman Ciaramitaro, the band’s neon-shorts-wearing fire-starter. In hardcore, many lyricists tend to focus on how the band isn’t like anything in ordered society and if you’re against anything they say, get the fuck out because you don’t get it and you never will. While Ciaramitaro’s lyrics have plenty of that, they have many heart-wrenching moments as well. Drain’s newest release, California Cursed, leans fully into these moments, simultaneously opening eyes and cracking skulls.
California Cursed plays out more as a confessional than a hardcore record. Ciaramitaro wears his heart on his sleeve from the get-go, even though it’s difficult to hear when he’s shredding his vocal chords and bouncing off the walls at a million miles an hour. On lead single and early standout “Army of One,” a redux of a 2018 demo track, he talks about all the undesirable work he’s had to do just to scrounge up enough money to buy some groceries, and if you look down on him for it, you don’t understand what it’s like to struggle. “You weren’t broke with me / You weren’t naked with me / I had to wait for that sleazy man to give me my fuckin’ money,” he screams as the rest of the band lays down filthy bass lines, blazing guitar solos and thoracic cavity-crushing drum blasts, recounting the times he posed nude for a community college art class run by a perverted old man.
Album opener “Feel the Pressure,” on the other hand, starts on a much calmer note. After hearing seagulls cackle for a few moments, someone crashes into the ocean and gasps for air as the band slowly comes into focus. Guitarist Cody Chavez chugs by himself for a bit, only for the rest of the band to join him and rip down the walls. It’s a song made to be played live because it gives pit members just enough time to acquaint themselves with the atmosphere before the carnage begins. After a quick breakdown about halfway through, Ciaramitaro disapprovingly shrieks at his detractors, “I feel the pressure of a thousand eyes / Staring at me / They want to see me fall / HA-HA / Yeah right man! You won’t see me at all,” in a moment made for two-stepping.
Drain only takes a brief mid-album break with the foreboding “Hollister Daydreamer,” meant to serve as both a relief from the carnage and a warning of what’s to come. The next three songs, particularly “White Coat Syndrome,” are all absolute shitrippers as the band kicks things into overdrive. Ciaramitaro touches on topics like mental health, self-corruption and the urge to do your family right even when the going gets tough. During a particularly powerful segment of “The Process of Weeding Out,” he tugs on the heart strings by exclaiming, “I can’t let down / The ones I love / I can’t let the ones I hate / Be right / I’ve got the strength / I’ve got the light.” The entirety of California Cursed serves as a build up to the album closer, the eponymous “California Cursed.”
“California Cursed” is a love letter to Santa Cruz, even though at times it has been a source of such anguish for the band. The project is Drain’s brand of hardcore executed to perfection as every member reaches deep into their bag to pull out all the stops, but it’s Ciaramitaro who steals the show. “I’m a slave to the curse and it’s getting worse / California Cursed / I was born here and I’ll die here / Until that day, this is where I’ll be / This state has swallowed me whole / Suck me down and set me free.” Ciaramitaro and the rest of Drain all know that, more often than not, sunshine does not equal good times, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re all cursed, but it’s the only way they’ll ever set themselves free.