Iron Chic’s new record is two things: both the same as previous releases, and absolutely incomparable to them. Due out on October 13, You Can’t Stay Here addresses the same big questions that have plagued the Long Island punk group from their outset: anxiety, depression, relationships, substance abuse, mortality, life, death, what it all means, why we’re forced to experience them. But this album is punctured with grief and devastation; while these are all familiar concepts, they’re relayed with an added desperation, and the claustrophobic, inescapable reality of them. There’s no punchline, no immediate silver-lining.
Jason Lubrano, the band’s singer, is aware of the absence. “On the past records, we generally try to throw in an optimistic note here and there. That might be the one thing that this record is lacking.”
That pervasive darkness goes right back to the record’s title, a line from the song, “You Can’t Stay Safe.” It’s a manifestation of a general anxiety, a permanent lack of peace. “No matter what you do in this world, there’s always some danger or something lurking there for you,” Lubrano sighs. “Even when you kind of think you’re okay, you might not be. That was just sort of like a desperation there: you can’t really be safe anywhere.”
It’s hard to not hear all of this as a product of the loss the band suffered in January 2016, when Rob McAllister, Iron Chic’s founding guitarist, died unexpectedly. The band is still coming to terms with McAllister’s passing. “I’ve dealt with loss before in my life,” Lubrano says. “I lost my dad when I was 21, but he was sick and we kind of saw it coming, and I was able to process it in that sense. Rob was a unique thing because it was one of the first times a close friend has died, and someone my age.”
The loss of McAllister loomed over the creation of You Can’t Stay Here. “It does definitely permeate all aspects of it,” Lubrano remarks. “It’s just hanging there.” Some of the tracks had been written with McAllister, compounding the pain of his absence. Written and recorded in guitarist Phil Douglas’ house, working on the record was a sort of coping mechanism for the bandmates. “It definitely brought us closer on as friends to just have this to focus on and put our energies into and help keep our minds off of things,” Lubrano explains. That utility is something he wants to share: “I hope that translates and I hope that people can get a similar feeling from it.”
Despite the subject matter, the band’s aptitude for unbridled anthemics is on full display here. Flickering into life with a rising wave of distorted bar chords, “A Headache With Pictures” is a crass, unabashed introduction, with throttling gang vocals and “whoa-oh!”s layered over slashing guitars. The band’s self-production is evident and bracing; guitars are thick and gnarled, immediate and relentless, while drums are taut and driving. Lubrano’s voice is more earnest than ever, and when the collective comes in for the big sing-along choruses, it sounds almost comforting; there’s still an indelible element of coldness to their choir of voices, but when they sing out in unison, there’s a flicker of hope.
The grief scattered across the record is blunt and overwhelming. “Too fucking tired to bother to dial the phone, I’m still mourning the life that I left behind,” Lubrano bellows on opener, “A Headache With Pictures.” Later, he contemplates our existence: “It’s hard to be a human being. How can we, when we’re not quite sure what being human means?” These aren’t dressed up, flowery, or even terribly artistic. They feel conversational, like a page ripped from a diary. Most diary entries go unshared; the strength in Iron Chic is that they share it all, in hopes that it might help us.
“If it’s a sense of feeling like somebody understands what they’re going through, or just that there’s people who think the same way, or even if they ascribe some story to what they’re hearing and they can relate to it, that’s ultimately what makes me feel good,” Lubrano says.
Lubrano is worried there’s no bright note on You Can’t Stay Here, no reprieve from the suffocating darkness (Although, as the dust settles on the album’s final moments, a preprogrammed melody from an old Casio keyboard rings out. Lubrano chuckles, “Phil was like, ‘Is this too goofy?’ and I’m like, ’Nah, I think I like it.’ It kind of breaks the tension at the end”).
But the record is the bright note. The feverish admissions of anxiety, the blunt discussions of mortality, the struggle to stay afloat in tar-thick clouds of depression; these are all dark, yes, but the externalization of them, casting them into light and setting them to a fierce, determined melody, is a cry for survival and perseverance. These are tributes to fortitude, not weakness. Iron Chic has been through a hell of a fucking year. They’re still standing, and they made a record together. That’s the bright note.
“Halfway between the brilliant but scrappy melodies of 90s Ringing Ear bands and the mix of wiseguy/self-loathing attitude of Archers of Loaf, Notches are something like an emo band for those interested in anything but.”