A months ago, the Holy Mess announced via its Twitter feed that it has broken up. The Philadelphia punk band released two (maybe three, depending who you ask) full-length albums and a handful of EPs and splits. Its last record, Trash Age, came out in April this year.
As a four-piece, the band cranked out some of the most gleeful drunk-punk Philadelphia has ever seen. Its 2011 self-titled record, a collection of it previous EPs, still sounds electric today. If one wanted to get historic and sentimental about it, the songs bridged the gap between the city’s harmonic punk roots and a new class of Lawrence Arms / Dillinger Four Midwest apostles. Even today, it’s a hooky, blazing collection of songs that suggest a very fun, probably dangerous party is happening somewhere not too far away, if you’re ballsy enough to go join it.
Let me editorialize for a minute here: I have, time and again, found myself out of step with what punk’s masses want, what bands are roped up as great or “next” or whatever. I want to say here that, at the time of its release, listening to The Holy Mess felt like listening to the next great punk band. I was both thrilled and intimidated by them, solely based on the strength of its songs.
I don’t know what happened to the band after this release. I have suspicions; a possibly-partially correct narrative could be strung together. Better to let the band to speak for itself. This note, regarding the band’s first proper full length, Cande Ru Las Degas, tells as much of the story as anyone outside the band’s circle is likely to get.
A not so very interesting story behind this album…
Cande Ru Las Degas is a culmination of four friends writing together, on and off, over the course of 2 years. During this time we lost friends, family, marriages, and almost each other in a van wreck. The subject matter is somewhat terrifying to us because we know what it touches upon. We don’t wanna go back there.
Now don’t get us wrong. There was many a party thrown in, but the overall feeling that lead up to recording this record was one we’d rather forget.
We packed our shit and headed to Atlas Studios in March of 2012.
Red Scare Industries released this record in August 2012.
Some people loved it.
Some of you hated it.
Cande Ru Las Degas didn’t have much of a push behind it.
Some of you may’ve never heard it.
We stopped getting show offers. We stopped getting label attention. and then, we pretty much stopped.
Rob quit the band.
What you hear on this record is something you may never hear from us again.
The true tarnishing of four brothers that couldn’t find a better way.
The genuine concern of being so close, yet so far….
A blistering outcome of what could happen to your band.
Looking back on some of the press the album got at the time, it’s true that Cande Ru Las Degas wasn’t as well-received as the band’s first collection of songs, though it doesn’t look like it was especially savaged anywhere, either. I can remember that I personally didn’t care for it when it first came out, but that says a lot more about me than it does the band’s work.
Listening to it now, it sounds pretty great. It’s a mournful, deeply sad record. The party is very much over, but the edge remains. “A Song for Tim Browne to Sing” might be the best three minutes and forty five seconds the group has ever put out; the kind of song that could launch a band to alt-punk mainstream success, a la the Gaslight Anthem. We got this one wrong.
After this, the band didn’t exactly collapse, but it did recede into itself a little bit. Much was made by the band about its decision to go fully DIY on 2014’s excellent Comfort in the Discord. The Holy Mess appeared, at least from the outside, as a group distrustful of new people, of individuals who might be perceived to benefit or recontextualize their work. They were a band that seemed, above all else, determined to operate on its own terms, at its own pace. Comfort in the Discord is a great record; it feels grown up, both fearful and reverent of its own past, more clear-eyed and a little less reckless, no less energetic.
I ultimately have no idea how this band will be remembered locally, nationally or anywhere in between. They were world beaters until they weren’t, then they carried on anyway, thriving in the face of seeming collapse. The Holy Mess is a great punk band.