Much as Green Day magically rendered an old musical genre fresh and understandable to the adults who run MTV (and thereby millions of know-nothings too young to be bothered by historical precedence), New York’s CIV put business suits on hardcore punk and dived into the mainstream moshpit as if they had just discovered the cure for boredom. Able to claim real roots in the scene — singer Anthony “Civ” Civocelli, bassist Arthur (Smilios) and drummer Sammy (Siegler) all spent their formative years in late-’80s Queens punks Gorilla Biscuits; Set Your Goals co-producer Walter Schreifels of Quicksand was one of that band’s two guitarists — the quartet keeps the hardcore hard while including other, more accessible, styles on Set Your Goals. Armed with a clearheaded pop sense, CIV makes punk rock intensity palatable without sugarcoating it.
Looting the record store alongside Rancid and others, CIV plunders the past with impunity. On Set Your Goals, the quartet does a credible imitation of the mid-’70s Dictators, ties together elements of British new wave (subtly quoting the Clash in “Choices Made,” blatantly imitating the Sex Pistols in “Boring Summer,” recreating a cheeralong atmosphere somewhere between Generation X and Sham 69 for “So Far, So Good…So What”), honors pioneer thrash (covering Kraut’s “All Twisted”) and even acknowledges a Stray Cats strut (“Set Your Goals”) in service of well-crafted songs that deliver their tough, uplifting messages and standard gripes with impressive pop smarts. Making the most of clear sound, tight, unfussy playing and a full complement of rhythmic shifts (these guys remember when moshing was a dance tempo, not a slamming catch-all), CIV recycles with detailed dignity.
As a prelude, Start Today has all the speed, intensity and raw-throated aggression — but a less pronounced pop streak — of CIV and expresses sensible opinions about the same sorts of things. This exceptionally intelligent, articulate, well-played and clearly recorded hardcore rip would be totally killer if Civ’s voice weren’t so harsh. Still, highlights include an attack on prejudgment (“Two Sides”), an objection to racist punks (“Degradation”) and a motivational message about “Competition,” complete with a whistled bit.