What can you call an artist that constantly shifts between genres and sub-genres? A chameleon, a shapeshifter? Makes no difference actually, but it is usually a double-edged sword. It can turn into a showcase of the said artist’s abilities or it could be a sign of taking on too much for his own sake or even that she, he, they simply don’t know what they’re doing. It could be, as Kevin Ayers (one of the classic British rock musicians in ‘Why Are We Sleeping?’) sings, “It begins with a blessing/And it ends with a curse.” That brings us to Philadelphia’s Merit Maker, also known as Joe Stanton.
Stanton has his initial album, Judgment Calls, behind him and now he comes with an aptly titled, very current five-song EP, Quarantined. Stanton has been working on the songs here for some 10 years or so, tweaking and reworking them in collaboration with Zack Seif on guitars and Mikey Horn on drums. But why mention the chameleon’s change of colours or shape-shifting here?
To many not too versed in punk, metal and their ever-changing and increasing number of sub-genres, this might sound like nit-picking. But to those in the know, it makes a big difference and it is all in the nuances. Luckily for Stanton and his listeners, he certainly knows how to handle those. He was no stranger to hardcore on his initial album either, but here he takes an even more aggressive approach to that sound and its variations. While essentially holding to the punk mantle, Stanton incorporates various elements of metal – crossover thrash, metal-punk, alternative-metal, they’re all in there. If you take a closer, repeated listen, you will probably discover more.
Basically, with Quarantined, Stanton is able to escape the possible problems when you shift between genres and sub-genres as he not only knows what he’s doing but shows that he can master any and all of those he takes on here. Then, there’s another point here: Stanton is not the first artist who made his music in quarantine and who incorporated that constraining situation in the theme and title of his release during this pandemic.
While quite a number of artists take melancholy and quietness as marks of being isolated and alone, he tackles the other side of that situation – the pent-up aggression that builds when you are not able to have direct contact with other people and the rage that has to explode at some point or other. On Merit Maker’s Quarantined that aggression explodes like an uncontrolled pressure cooker spilling its contents all over the place and eventually bringing relief that we all need in such situations.