Scowl, How Flowers Grow (Flatspot Records, 2021)

A high tide raises all ships.

The Bay Area hardcore scene has come to a simmer over the last few years, and excitement is boiling over. The region’s first show back after the COVID lockdowns—an outdoor matinee featuring the scene’s highest profile bands—had over 2000 attendees.

Pictures and videos from that event were hard to ignore, including clips of Scowl, an opening band with a magnanimous vocalist in a cropped Ramones t-shirt and a bright green skirt. 

Scowl has been around since 2019, but they picked up a massive head of steam when shows came back.

The band’s aesthetic is a critical part of the package. It’s an explosion of color and texture in a world of two-tone cassette art. Everything—from their live demeanor to the sardonic pink daisy in the middle of their logo—breathes life into the music and makes you take notice.

Scowl’s eye-catching visual presentation, combined with an increased appetite for punk flavor in modern hardcore, provides the perfect storm for success. How Flowers Grow is a straightforward mashup of Ceremony (especially in the vocals) and the No Way Records vibe as re-popularized by contemporaries like Gel, Spy, and Protocol. The album has all the pieces, but something falls flat in the execution.

Let’s face it: I need one or more of the following things for this specific flavor of “hardcore punk with the emphasis on punk” to pique my interest:

  1. The band members need to be playing fast enough that they’re hitting the peak of their technical abilities.
  2. It needs to be catchy enough to get stuck in my head. 
  3. The production needs to be blown out and feral for that menacing, confrontational feel.

This record doesn’t really check any of those boxes for me. Imagine how much more fun “Fuck Around” (assisted by Drain vocalist Sammy Ciamataro) would be if it were a sloppy mess played 10 bpm faster. Imagine how much of a pile-on anthem “Idle Roaring Room” would be if there ware some catchy leads or interesting fret work to punctuate the vocal refrain.

Imagine how unhinged the title track (already a high point on the record) would sound if the drums were clipping and the amps were exploding with feedback. We instead get a very well done “big room hardcore” sound.

This production would work perfectly on a Turnstile record. For Scowl, it highlights the simplicity of their music in all the wrong ways—a Live Nation-sized spotlight on something that sounds best bouncing off concrete walls in a basement. 

Photo: Gray Muncy

How Flowers Grow is an okay record. I wish it was great, though. Scowl is one of the most hyped bands in hardcore. Their debut full length unfortunately doesn’t carry the energy or charm of their live videos and previous releases.

My opinion might be clouded by the current over-saturation in the punk hardcore market. I might also be expecting too much because of the buzz. Maybe the record just doesn’t hit. Whatever the case, I look forward to being won over when Scowl comes through my town. I’m just not there yet.

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