If the name didn't tip you, it takes about 28 seconds of The Hands Up EP to know exactly who Durham's Red Collar is for and what they're about: "I got my bachelor's/ Got my master's/ I got my doctorate/ Yes, I'm a real go-getter." This isn't a red collar for the working-class conservatives of America; this is the red collar of the blue-collar, progressive proletariat. This may be a red band in a red state, but their symbology is more Lenin and Marx than W and donkeys.
But the five-piece tempers political persuasions with a swill of maturity. The four songs on Hands Up seem less about coercion and condescension than a little paean on behalf of responsibility and decency. There's "Stay," a backlash against grass-is-always-greener escapism, and "Witching Hour," a sardonic caricature of evil's hungry conquest over good. No, Red Collar, led by Jason Kutchma, has evolved beyond scene polemics, and their music—rooted in a purely punk past but married to a mature melodic embrace—follows suit. Somehow, they fuse several great strains of punk—like the power plod of early '80s Boston band Mission of Burma and the scabrous edge of D.C.'s Fugazi—with a wide-open sense of pop. It sounds surprisingly more fresh than forced or marketed.
That's likely because, amidst their politics, Red Collar never forgets why they're here: Check the chorus of the titular opener, which churns at a jagged D.C. clip for the first 100 seconds. The fury slowly folds in on itself, firmaments of protest briefly ceding to reveal a redolent, almost jangly vista of a hook: "There was a time when the world was mine/ if I just stayed on track/ When I answered the call, I wanted it all/ Now, I want it all back," Kutchma, Mike Jackson and Andrew Blass sing together on the hand-clap-worthy chorus, celebrating the over-educated kid who's suddenly realized he may be in too deep. As dangerous as it seems, it sounds as though two of the biggest East Coast acts—R.E.M. and Fugazi—wound up staying in the same hotel off of Interstate 95 somewhere near Fayetteville in 1995. That was Red Medicine time for Fugazi and the post-Monster era for R.E.M.: Rightly, there's snarl to spare by the second here, but Red Collar pulls up just in time to sink the hook. And making those mechanics charming and persuasive, which Red Collar does really well, is a wild gift, indeed.
Red Collar plays Friday, March 2 at 305 South in Durham with The Cassandra Project; Wednesday, March 7 at The Cave in Chapel Hill with Goes Cube; and Friday, March 9 with four bands at Broad Street Café in Durham. For more, see www.myspace.com/redcollarmusic.