In the bygone era of arena rock, concerts were a way of promoting records. Punk challenged that notion by making rock a communal experience again: the boundaries between performer and punter were blurred; anyone could start a band; and records were no longer the definitive statement of an artist’s vision, but rather a way of promoting visceral and participatory live shows. In their early years, Atlanta trio The Coathangers were very much of the classic punk ethos—the band was a live entity, and the records were merely a document of the charisma and chaos projected from stage. But after 12 years of relentlessly touring on a steady flow of EPs and LPs, The Coathangers finally took a moment to recalibrate before diving into the creation of their sixth studio album The Devil You Know. After a summer break of reflection and reassessment, the band regrouped to make an album that captures all the vitality of their early years while honing their individual strengths into new communal achievements. It’s a record that takes their established takes on vitriolic punk, playful house-party anthems, and heartworn ballads and melds them into a new sound that retains all their former live show glories while revealing a new level of songwriting and nuance.
The album title stems from an old adage whispered at a friend’s wedding. We settle when we’re afraid of the unknown. It’s a theme that runs through every song on the album, and even though the band insists they were writing songs about other peoples’ pain, they acknowledge that the old saying applies to their band as well. We get comfortable, we get scared, and we refuse to change. But with The Devil You Know, The Coathangers lost their fear, and that allowed them to shed the baggage of the past. “Why are we living in these cells we built for ourselves?” Kugel asks. “That’s been the great thing about this record. It’s been honest and confrontational… but not in a shitty way.”