If it wasn’t apparent on their 2020 breakthrough The Passion Of, New Orleans punk quartet Special Interest literally are not fucking around. Their quietly celebrated 2018 debut, Spiraling, may seem like ages ago, but the band’s rate of maturity between each album is a testament to their commitment to expressing their ideologies ever more impactfully.
On Endure, their first album for Rough Trade, Special Interest take everything that made The Passion Of so intense and multiply it to the power of “holy shit”. Lead singer Alli Logout’s unmistakable vocal performances set them apart from most in the genre, and Special Interest as a whole hammer through beat after beat, crunch after crunch, and blitzkrieg by blitzkrieg.
Early signs pointed to a departure from their brutal sophomore record via the lead single “Midnight Legend”, a sexy disco spinner that showcases Logout’s rich vocals and penchant for new territorial pop engagements. It’s a club banger with a message, a helping hand on the dancefloor after the party’s broken up and that final person sits in the middle alone. “Cherry Blue Intention” is another showcase of their enhanced pop credentials, opening the album in dance-punk fashion, enough of a stiff gut punch that would make Death From Above 1979 and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blush. It’s a twirling psychosis of a track, one that’s made familiar by Logout’s soulfulness bringing it all together.
As always though, Special Interest are speaking for the often less heard demographic, those without money or support systems. “Foul” dumps the disco in the trash for a back alley brawl of a track, purposely getting under your skin with shout outs to UTIs, sleep deprivation, calluses, rats and the overall deprecating feeling of working a soul-destroying job. Logout’s not hiding their feelings on “Foul”; they spit piss and vinegar at capitalism, and its concussiveness is harsh but alluring.
“Concering Peace” is a takedown of the ‘American dream’, with Logout decrying the plight of “subsequent martyrs / reeking of the clock / in an endless mind game” while the band provides an intensely industrial backing. Sometimes, though, poetry won’t cut it and only direct attack will do, as on the throat-shredding “Impulse Control” where Logout strips down wannabe woke boys who are “better off sucking on ya mommy’s tit”.
Just like everyone else, the pandemic forced Special Interest record creatively for Endure, reducing their reliance on live performance. However, they maintained their usual starting point – the drum machine – and this ripples through Endure, with each beat sounding more and more like Ruth Mascelli is wielding support beams in a studio. The clangs and clashes are industrial tinged, a hallmark of Special Interest’s core sound.
Nevertheless, Endure is clearly more accessible by The Passion Of standards. It has a higher recording fidelity, with each sound crystalline, but the band’s initiative is still 100% in your face and confrontational. The growls and snarls that propelled the previous album into punk territory are still present but less noticeable alongside Logout’s more powerful natural singing voice.
Smoldering bits like “My Displeasure” highlight the versatility of Logout’s vocal, as they dwell imposingly at a lower register as they sing about life’s ever-encroaching horrors. This contrasts with the impassioned protest romp “(Herman’s) House”, revealing the breadth of the singer’s range and their ability to adapt their approach under different circumstances. Imagine Nina Simone fronting Joy Division, because that’s what “Love Scene” essentially is; a brooding, ugly slow burner that gets down in the muck thanks to a truly menacing riff from co-founder and guitarist Maria Elena. This extends into “Kurdish Radio” as Logout pairs with darkly with Nathan Cassiani’s gothic bass strumming.
With a wider range of exposure Special Interest no doubt understood the weight of delivering a nasty follow-up to The Passion Of. Factoring in a pandemic, and the ever-changing musical landscape, the band subvert the expectation by leaning heavier into their complexities to make Endure a triumph. It’s not so much a left turn as it is an evolution in sound, one that manages to cover more territory than their last album – and deliver their message in a way that is both more urgent and more approachable.