By: Hunter Funk
XETAS are not here to appease your needs. The blood-pumping first half-minute of “The Gaze,” leadoff track from their upcoming sophomore effort The Tower, might hoodwink new listeners into a false sense of rock & roll security; after all, the trio are no strangers to the power of a great riff. Yet in the world XETAS inhabit, nothing is secure, and certainly nothing is sacred. So at almost precisely the thirty-second mark, the veil falls, Kana Harris’s grim vocals and rumbling bass cut through the mix, and the titular gaze reveals itself as the omnipresent, inescapable, objectifying eyes of men. “Where you going? / Do you need a ride?” she intones with sunken-eyed, Kim Gordon-esque venom. “Hey, where do you work? / Do you have a boyfriend?... Don’t say no.” If it serves to jar you from your seat a little, well, great. The band’s songs might be some of the most musically gratifying of all their Austin punk peers, but if it’s feel-good, ingratiating themes you seek, you won’t likely find any stuck between their gritted teeth.
A recent Chronicle piece highlighting sexism in the Austin music scene interviewed Harris about the frustration of dealing with backlash to calling out a sexual assailant. That incident occurred years ago, but victim-blaming and indifference from friends coupled with the creeps, the catcalling, the mere experience of existing day to day in an oppressive universe – all of it adds to a crushing weight grinding you down. No one moves to support the silenced. Here, even guitarist/vocal foil David Petro’s chorus of apparent solidarity – “I know you’re tired of feeling like there’s nothing left for us to do” – comes with an incredulous caveat: “There’s something that I have to know…” But Harris’s sentiment is indelibly clear and pure: “When I’m tired, feeling weak / If you see I cannot speak / Will you please lend your voice to me?”
Punk might seem a perfect sounding board for voices long quelled by absurdly archaic societal systems, and in a city as “progressive” as our state capitol, we might like to think we’ve come quite far. But we broken humans tend to scrabble for whatever small sign of progress may justify a slew of still-existent shortcomings. The cruel reality is that for every “Suggestion” or “Oh Bondage!” there may still be dozens of hypocritical “allies” and hundreds of sexual criminals allowed to walk free, even people you once considered friends. There will likely always be new ground to cover, and no one can do it alone. With this irrefutable slice of anthemic punk, XETAS strike straight for the heel, turning your gaze upon the issue so forcibly you can’t let yourself look away.
XETAS’ second full-length album, The Tower, will be unleashed April 14 through 12XU records.
Listen to "The Gaze" now: