Was glam a rejection of gender? A reification of norms, tied up with a neat boa? A cultural blip where fashionistas with high cheekbones and an unsubtle command of chorus writing could play dress up and kill time before punk came along? Yes, yes, and yes. Even as late as 1991, squares were still misunderstanding glam; setting the canard of “grunge killed hair metal” in stone, as if Alice In Chains wasn’t rewriting “Do The Strand” for a new generation of the differently doomed. (Shortly thereafter, the greatest American music misunderstanders of all—the English—thought they were rejecting grunge by getting back into glam rock. Which was great and all, but Suede and Alice In Chains would have been a boffo double bill.)
Punk rock has always had a complicated relationship with the glam rock that gave birth to it. While punk’s denunciation of history never meant throwing out one’s glitter rock LPs, and just about every English punk musician of a certain age will readily cite David Bowie and Mick Ronson’s appearance on Top of the Pops in 1972 as life changing, by 1983, large subsections of punk also decided that popularity, fun, and effeminate footwear were signs of inauthenticity.
Those were best consigned to counterrevolutionaries, new wavers, and all the other sellouts with insufficiently austere hairdos. Pantomiming the masculine and shirtless hip-shake of Iggy Pop and the Stooges never went out of style, but aping the gender fluidity of Bowie or Bolan would require a subculture (seemingly determined to never once clap in time) to admit that maybe it had been wrong about disco.
Was glam a rejection of gender? A reification of norms, tied up with a neat boa?
Fast forward to 2022: Gender fluidity is scary in a way that Bowie is lucky to be absent for and guitar rock is a hobby, like collecting porcelain chickens or space exploration. Glam rock is back where it belongs; the purview of total freaks.
Peace De Résistance and Chronophage are two outfits originally hailing from Austin, Texas, with Peace De Résistance calling New York home now for several years. They are friends, which is always nice, and there’s some overlap in other musical projects. Both acts are loosely associated with what is loosely called punk. Whether both bands would call themselves “glam rock” is immaterial. Neither they nor I are being paid the big bucks to do anything, let alone determine genre, so we are all free. But both band’s recent albums (Peace De Résistance’s debut LP, Bits And Pieces, and Chronophage’s self-titled third) draw from the sultry confusion of the 1970’s fourth or fifth most debauched music scene.
Their respective treasure/trash maps might lead to different sonic destinations; Bits and Pieces revels in Motor City drug-muck and Chronophage’s s/t resides in whatever town is big enough for both them and Sparks. But both bands end up working the same line, doing time in the velvet goldmine just like their daddies did before them.
Peace De Résistance, the solo-act brainchild of Moses Brown, began as a tribute to Zambian Zamrock like Witch and Amanaz, and now plays what he calls a “demented take” on glam rock; taking glitter’s never ending after party to its hungover conclusion and rendering riffology and rhythms forlorn and claustrophobic. It’s Suzi Quatro being smothered by her own catsuit, or Iggy Pop being smothered by his own skin. Brown’s day job (outside of whatever job he has that conceivably brings enough money to pay the rent) is being the singer of Institute, a punk band founded in Texas that used to sound like Crisis (i.e. Joy Division if Joy Division had locked Martin Hannett out of the studio), and now sounds like Crisis if that particular U.K. post-punk band acknowledged punk’s Black roots, instead of going in a… different direction. Brown also plays drums in the hardcore band, Glue. Glue are a killer diller to be sure but, as hardcore is a lifestyle that is ostensibly resistant to glam’s extravagance, Brown’s presence within that band is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Unless we wanted to use his hardcore drumming sideline as evidence of Peace De Résitance being “infused with punk energy.” But that descriptor is for hacks, and means nothing.
The neat trick of Bits And Pieces (which was self-released in April) is that it conveys a worldview that’s decidedly political while not being overly concerned with “punk energy.” AND I SAY THAT AS A COMPLIMENT. Not to say that any of the record’s ten tracks are lacking in piss or poison, just that Brown plays all the instruments with a gravitational, pharmaceutical, lethargic patience, like a street slouching cheetah with a heart full of cough syrup. The lyrics on Bits And Pieces might be of the peace-punk variety (“THE RICH WRITE THE SCRIPT TO COMMIT CRIME AGAIN/ THEY DO IT TIME AND TIME AGAIN/ IN THE NAME OF MANIFEST DESTINY/ IT’S QUITE A STICKY WICKET/ THEY’VE COMMANDEERED OUR SOULS.”) but the delivery is more sensual than Subhuman.
Brown poses his questions about who exactly owes who a living like he’s trying out pickup lines on one (or two) of the models posed in various positions of sexualized discomfort on any given Roxy Music album cover. It's a rare pleasure, infrequently found in my prefered genres (outside of top notch agit-crooners like Algiers), to get my daily dose of Marxist discourse delivered like I’m being offered a Parliament Light outside the discotheque, rather than feeling like I’m being yelled at for eating dairy.
It is the molasses-licked, Johnny Thunders riffs of Brown’s songs, draped over the skeleton of a prehistoric Jeepster, that fuels the album’s mojo. The absence of “punk” lets the songs breathe and slink. In fact, much as I dig Brown’s other bands, I didn’t miss punk at all. Brown’s channeling of ’70s era cool, come-on impiety does twice the work at half the pace.
Before the Blitzkrieg was judged solely on how hard it Bopped, before the Sex Pistols wisely said “no thanks” to the future, and before the punx Green Day replaced the Punxsutewany Groundhogs as the final arbitraters on seasonal change, “punk energy” was just called “energy.” It gave us refrigeration, religion, the steam engine, and Elliott Gould.
Like religion and Elliott Gould, Chronophage are less obvious in their indebtedness to either punk or glam. With a notable absence of cock rocking, of either the “All The Young Dudes” or “God Save The Queen” variety, and with only the band’s Stardustian gender fluidity as direct line to any glitter-god ancestors, claiming Chronophage as part of a lineage of cosmic dancers might seem like a reach. If it’s a reach the reader is averse to, that’s okay. The long arm of rock criticism is here to ensure that no top shelf is too high to keep the reader from the glam rock pickle jar.
Chronophage got started, in 2017, as a ramshackle, subterranean-fidelity, no-folk band. They put out a couple tapes of hiss and art-school twang that, at their best, sounded like the Velvet Underground: Live From The Bottom Of a Well (fun!), and at other times, a punk primitivist take on folk primitivism. Like Dead Moon covering Days ‘n’ Daze (also fun). In the last few years, the band has shed most of that quirk and cacophony. Chronophage’s debut full length, Prolog For Tomorrow, maintained a degree of outsider music likability, but balanced it with a strange, sad ferocity which revealed the instability of the songs as intentional; less incompetence than accurate representations of fragility, scarcity, and romance. Prolog was ignored by everyone except the punk elegiasts at Maximum RnR who, perhaps in appreciation of the imminent fragility of their own fine organization, recognized the album as one of the year’s best. Chronophage’s follow up, The Pig Kiss’d, returned MRR’s complement by being an almost proper garage/post-punk album, despite violating the cardinal rules of post-punk/garage rock by not sounding like every other band on earth.
The long arm of rock criticism is here to ensure that no top shelf is too high to keep the reader from the glam rock pickle jar
Now, with their self-titled third album, Chronophage are not only competent, confident, and cleanly produced (by Craig Ross, who has notably worked with country singer Patty Griffin), they are actually approaching something that veers dangerously into the territory of extremely skilled.
The band’s immediate charm is still the wide eyed interplay between the two vocalists, Parker Allen and Sarah Beames. The pair takes turns on lead, with one singer playing the part of either wry or plaintive complainant while the other accompanies with either sardonic or chiming sing-song support. The result has echoes of old Sarah Records, but without the sometimes adorable, sometimes kitschy, affected aversion to modernity that some of those bands indulged in. (If either Beames or Allen own an anorak, neither singer mistakes it for a personality trait.) Scratching against the vocal bittersweetness, the band favors a no-wave, country-Quine, jackknife guitar tone, riding high enough on the neck to leave a hickey. Contrasting that sound, Casey Allen (brother of Parker) keeps his keyboard lines warm and burbling, shooting out just enough melody guided lasers to keep the paisley at bay. Underneath all the aforementioned kaleidoscope is recent addition, drummer Adam Jones, who brings some rumbling bombast to the affair, moving away from former drummer Cody Phifer’s punky snap towards an almost Anton Fier-esque sense of drama.
It’s within this drama, and within the spirit of the band’s contradictory (power) pop impulses, where a case can be made for Chronophage’s inherent, if subtle, glam-osity. The winsome songcraft ensures that the sumptuous drumming goes down like a snack. The guitars may be more “Loveless Love” than “Ladytron,” but Parker’s pointillist riffing rains silver over Sarah Beames undertow, allowing her basslines to snake, sleaze and strut through the songs like a button-undone Bryan Ferry prowling to the boudoir of a son’s girlfriend.
If either Beames or Allen own an anorak, neither singer mistakes it for a personality trait
Mose Brown makes his glam leanings overt. Parker Allen readily admits to loving T. Rex, Bowie and Iggy. With time marching on, nostalgia having the force of gravity, and it being a couple decades since the last glam revival, danger lurks. Revivals bring misremembering. You can’t cosplay innovation. There will be no Fun Boy Three or Fishbone in the ska revival. If the next season of Stranger Things decides to use “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” as emotional shorthand, there could be trouble. A “Ten Glam-punk Bands (from Brooklyn or Silver Lake) You Need To Know” round-up lurks behind every corner, waiting to pounce.
If there is a revival, Chronophage and Peace De Résistance will not be included. While both acts embody glam’s spirit, neither are beholden to history enough to cosplay. Instead, both bands enact the energy by distorting it, channeling glam’s ghost as a fever. Imagine a Bronson Alcott High School where, rather than attending Mighty Mighty Bosstones concerts and inventing step-sibling porn, Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless character was instead infatuated with the school’s Stars of Track and Field. Guess what, lucky duck? You don’t have to! With Chronophage and Peace De Résistance’s new records, the gongs practically bang themselves.