P.H.F. (formerly Perfect Hair Forever) is the bedroom recording project of Auckland, New Zealands Joe Locke. Over the course of a decade, the project incarnated itself in several ways, starting out as an anonymous, noisy, lo-fi punk outfit. Mall O Caust has some jarring instrumentation, lyrics which are completely unintelligible, and the recording quality is pretty bad and not in the charming way. P.H.F. briefly blossomed into a full band (2013s VOID) filling out the otherwise rip-your-head-off treble of previous efforts with substantial bass and better, more direct songwriting chops (VOID is really great go listen to it). The band then completely changed direction, replacing the traditional guitar/bass/drums instrumentation with a vast palette of drug laced synths and blissed out drum machine (2015’s Soft). I made that timeline up based on their bandcamp and watching a few live videos, I could be totally wrong. They are kind of secretive. oh well.
On last years I Hate Myself, the band dug in their heels and stuck to a formula: lo fi power pop. The results are damn near perfect.
I Hate Myself is an album that is in constant conflict with itself. It combines angsty, self loathing lyrics with a pop sensibility that is completely disarming and allows a listener to not tire of its complaints. It’s like eating taffy off of a knife blade. You think to yourself, “here i am tapping my foot to this song which is about a relationship falling apart”, or “he sounds like he’s crying but its so catchy!”. Joes voice often cracks and breaks, seemingly on the edge of tears at times but almost always soaking in chorus effect. I’d say it sits somewhere between Bob Pollard and Elliott Smith in both content and form.
Most of the songs feature a soaring guitar lead (or two at once!) which showcase P.H.F.’s mastery of their craft, which in my opinion is simultaneously ripping off and sounding better than Weezer. The band tackles some heavy subjects on this record, but you probably figured that out from the title. Relationships (Yr An Excuse, Glue), Depression (I Hate Myself), day to day drudgery (Huff) all find a place here. The sparkle of hope that keeps me engaged is this elusive feeling of comfort that is offered by the arrangements, which contrast the heavy handed emotional lyrics by staying mostly major key. Nothing on here sounds half assed, the production is still decidedly homemade and lo-fi, but unlike other PHF records, this time the vocals sit on top of the mix. There’s no guesswork involved with the lyrics, which is a major change from their previous output. Of course everything is also soaked in feedback, which is THE love language of punks everywhere.
I would fully endorse you getting your mitts on a copy of this record if only to allow its sugary brand of misery to take you on a self-pitying daydream. P.H.F.’s “I Hate Myself” is THE album you put on when you want the party to leave, but still want a friend or two to stick around to help you clean up the mess you made.