Tacoma, Washington’s Criminal Code play a guitar heavy, tense, and frenetic style of post-punk, washed out in a sea of dark ambience. The band picks up quick and easy comparisons with bands like Husker Du and the Wipers in no large part due to both the driving nature of their songs, and the particular guitar tone that has dominated their back catalog.
With a number of seven inch releases and one twelve inch EP released since forming in 2011, the band has garnered a lot of attention in the hardcore and DIY punk communities due in large part to a very defined aesthetic. No Device, the band’s first LP, is an album that largely caters to its fanbase, but has enough bigger elements to break into a larger cultural sphere.
Criminal Codes aesthetic is strong, driving songs with lyrical guitar leads weaving in and out of a bed of chorus and tremelo effects. Vocally, Taiga, the band’s defacto front person, shouts and stammers his way through the anthemic tracks. Less singing, and more in the way of hardcore vocals in the youth crew tradition, Criminal Code relies heavily on the impact of the instruments and strong hooks to propel the songs.
The first half of No Device follows a very formatted and fluid template. The songs, while not interchangeable, could fit together in many other configurations – despite this, there isn’t a stale feeling in the album, but a feeling that you are being pummeled by one all-consuming thought. This is a tactic that is all too familiar within the hardcore genre, a genre that Criminal Code can easily trace its own roots.
“Flagstone” is the albums first standout track. The song still holds on to the sonic template of Criminal Code but has a tempo and mood completely different than the early half of the album immediately grabbing you. The mid-point swerve saves the album from at times feeling like everything is a little too locked in, a little too true to its own aesthetic.
The shift in mood continues through “Mocking Shadows”, the albums most accessible song in an anthemic sense. There is a pleading, dependant approach to “Mocking Shadows” that can take the listener in, one of the rare songs that bring you in so close that you instantly want to sing along to it. There is an obvious tonal homage to the Wipers’ most anthemic song “Youth of America”; and even if it isn’t intentional – it simply is too close to ignore in a post-modern sense.
No Device, not unlike the band itself, exists on a level of contradictions. It is anthemic but dissonant, punishing and melancholic, obtuse and direct; simply it is an album with more to unlock in each listen than you would expect. While the album has a few standout songs that will stick with the individual on a one by one level, for the most part the album must be taken as a whole to get at the heart of the matter, otherwise you get the nagging feeling something is missing – and this might be the most contradictory matter presented by Criminal Code.