Straw Man Army are a two-piece band who bring the anger and noble angst of Crass and The Ex to bear on the soil of North America in an attempt to come to terms- morally, intellectually, and historicall—with the genocide of the native populations in the wake of European expansion and settlement of what is now known as the United States of America.
There is scant information about the band and their origins (at least as far as I could find) but their debut LP Age of Exile provides plenty of material for discussion, so even if I could find a full biography of each member (of which there are only two, Owen and Sean), I’d end up excluding most of this information anyway.
Age of Exile opens like an opera, with a swelling orchestral arrangement of sorts, with mournful strings rising like corpses from a burial mound, to a persistent paddling beat like the sound of water running over a fallen log.
The uplift of this opening track does the job of acting as a dramatic current draw and an establishment shot, dressing the scene with tension and grief. The following track “First Contact” introduces the plot, a story of a place scrubbed clean of its history and people, as if they had simply been sand on a beach, caught up in the wind and scattered above the ocean, never to return.
With a steady, skeletal groove, the chronicle unfolds, with settlers coming from overseas and claiming the land they find as their own. An act of negation that continues to this very day, as we are reminded with the line “we repeat the process by forgetting what was lost.”
Straw Man Army’s sound could easily be slotted into what has come to be called “post-punk.” A bony, stripped guitar style favoring angular grooves that get under your skin and jam an elbow between your ribs. Combine these aspects with its historical outlook and the weight of its lyrics, and you’ve got the recipe for something ostentatious.
Straw Man Army possess a lot of qualities they could that capitalize on. Cashing in their “indie cred” would be pretty easy, and the reviews comparing them to the likes of Wire and The Swell Maps, as well as contemporaries, like the high minded Fountains D.C basically write themselves. Rock tastemakers lie awake every night drooling over that kind of shit. But somehow, I just don’t see any of that as relevant to Straw Man Army are doing. While not sonically synonymous, a better point of reference for them is the British anarcho-punk of the early ’80s.
Straw Man Army are aggressively opposed to the status quo of private land ownership taking precedence over human lives and this indignant attitude thoroughly informs the thesis of Age of Exile. They are a band that have no interest in being detached from the subject matter of their work or from the introspection and action it can inspire. To a band like Straw Man Army, irony is a cadaver, one rightfully buried under six feet of sincerity, tears of passion, and dog-eared copies of Howard Zinn manuscripts.
“Option Despair” is a driving, county-wide laceration of razor-line grooves and twisty, spurring guitar riffs that gallops like a plague dog in a panoramic streak of melancholia across the pages of history books intoning the triumph of the American century. “The Silver Bridge” takes up a spinny, death rock guitar line to smudge out the glimmering edge of a false narrative of progress, while “An Offering” has a swampy, Agent Orange- sinking-into-a-molten-tarpit vibe to its bubbling corrosive licks and undertow grappling rhythms.
Even the instrumental tracks have an undeniably narrative quality to them, especially the final track which feels at times like a dark, inverted reflection of a jazz guitar concerto. There is not a moment on Age of Exile that will fail to invoke your passions of cause you to reel from some remembrance or revolution.
You can stream the entirety of Stray Man Army’s Age of Exile below.
All proceeds from Age of Exile will be donated to Red Nation, which you can learn more about here.