Punk rock is inherently reactionary. Musically, its first incarnation was a reaction to the bloatedness of arena rock acts that had become too huge to foster any kind of connection with their audience. Hardcore punk was a reaction to this reaction, as the genre began losing much of its exclusiveness when major labels became interested, and independent hardcore bands brought punk’s ideology back to its roots. Socially, punk rock is reactionary too. The Sex Pistols were conceived as a reaction to Britain’s economic disparity. Black Flag’s career was an ongoing struggle against a society that didn’t want them to exist, with the LAPD shutting down gigs left and right, and audiences stoking the band’s rage with increasingly violent behavior at shows. At the heart of it, punk rock is the product of a reaction to something, whether it’s economic inequality, musical disconnect, or just flat-out boredom. There’s always something fueling the fire.
White Lung is also reactionary. Their music is a response to a wealth of factors, foremost among them sexism, drug use, and their home city of Vancouver’s stifling of DIY culture. The former two are represented directly through frontwoman Mish Way’s lyrics; the latter simply through the band’s musical speed and efficiency. Vancouver’s punk scene is on the ropes right now, with venues scarce and bylaws making it hard for anything to gain traction. Like with contemporaries, Nü Sensae, this temporary nature of things manifests itself in a highly economic approach for White Lung. The total runtime of Sorry is less than 20 minutes, and each song displays brash melodicism at whiplash tempos before transitioning into the next with frightening efficiency. They go in, say what they have to say, and get out without taking any breaks or detours.
“Take The Mirror” opens the album by putting this approach on to arguably its best effect, as charging drums give way to a tight melody and Way’s disgusted lyrics. “Wipe that look from your face/I’ll drop you back from where you came,” she sings in the chorus, which takes self-seriousness to the limit without coming off as colorless and dull. “Bag,” set over frantically high-pitched guitars, is about being a witness and participant to drug use before walking away; the final verse ending on the line “Take the bag from my mouth because I’m not staying here, wasting here.” “St. Dad,” “The Bad Way,” and “Dead Beat” also focus on drug use, while “Thick Lip” and “Those Girls” have a feminist bent to them. “Thick Lip,” like “Take The Mirror,” addresses vanity and superficiality in appearance, while “Those Girls” is a darker tale featuring imagery of “a body carried in the sand.” For most bands, two and a half minutes or less isn’t a lot of time to tell complete stories lyrically and demonstrate musical development, but this is where White Lung excels. Their speed, tightness, and precision helps give each song its own throbbing vitality.
When you get down to it, Sorry is a really misleading album title. One look at the album’s lyrics sheet makes that much obvious. “I’ll drop you back from where you came.” “I will leave you in the street.” “I’ll scrub your liver clean.” The subjects vary, but the unequivocally unapologetic voice doesn’t. In fact, if it weren’t for the album title, I’d doubt whether the word “sorry” was even a part of Mish Way’s vocabulary. The title is tongue-in-cheek; the only humorous thing about the affair. Much of what White Lung does on Sorry is rooted in the same ideas that have produced countless punk classics. It’s a reaction against being oppressed by their government, by their friends’ drug use, and by sexism in society; and it tackles these problems with a lean, no-bullshit approach that is highly effective. The minimalist ideas of “jamming econo,” as The Minutemen termed it, have been taken up by scores of bands since it was dubbed thus, but in recent memory, few have put it to use as well as White Lung.