Tied to a Wire, Pulling Straight From the Past to Now: Hard Girls’ A Thousand Surfaces at 10

Looking back on an underrated cult-classic of the 2010s California punk scene.

Music Features Hard Girls
Tied to a Wire, Pulling Straight From the Past to Now: Hard Girls’ A Thousand Surfaces at 10

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it’s Hard Girls Summer, this summer and every summer.

I’m getting ahead of myself—let’s back up a decade. 2014 was a packed year for landmark punk releases: PUP self-titled, the Menzingers’ Rented World, Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Chumped’s Teenage Retirement, Joyce Manor’s Never Hungover Again, Tigers Jaw’s Charmer, the Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace Is There, Cayetana’s Nervous Like Me, Bomb the Music Industry!’s swan song Adults!!!…Smart!!! Shithammered!!! and Excited by Nothing!!!!!!!—to name just a few. Among them—in more ways than one, as Mike Huguenor has shared the stage with more than half of these bands in some capacity—is A Thousand Surfaces by Hard Girls.

Produced by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Gouge Away, Jeff Rosenstock), A Thousand Surfaces sounds BIG in a way that previous Hard Girls records didn’t, though there were glimmers of this full-bodied raucousness on tracks like “Hot For The Halo” and “Major Payne,” and even on Huguenor’s earlier work with his previous band Shinobu. A Thousand Surfaces feels stylistically similar to other punk records of the early 2010s—the gritty, melodic shouting heard on Glocca Morra’s Just Married, the looseness of the live demos and alternate takes on Joyce Manor’s Songs From Northern Torrance, a general “we’re all in it together” rowdiness of a Japandroids record (if Japandroids possessed a little more self awareness and/or a little less lust for life)—but there are also echoes of the far-away rattlings of early Pixies records, wall-shaking reverberation on tracks like “Screw” and “On & On.” I’ve never seen Hard Girls perform these songs live, at least not in person, but I have a feeling that they could make a basement or a dive bar feel like an arena, and vice-versa.

If this is not the only 10th anniversary retrospective written about A Thousand Surfaces written this year, I’ll be a little surprised, unless the other retrospectives are written by one of, like, five people I know who are equally fervent about shouting into the internet void about how special this band is. I’m usually a bit hesitant to write anniversary retrospectives on albums that I “discovered” years after they came out—albums that people talk about with a “you had to be there” flavor of reverence. When I mentioned this to Jay Papandreas (writer, blogger and noted Hard Girls fan who was there), he replied, “You didn’t miss much, it was me and 10 other guys on the internet yelling about [A Thousand Surfaces] when it dropped.” Now, 10 years later, it’s him and about 15 other guys on the internet yelling about it. Some things never change, but sometimes they do a little bit.

These days, Mike Huguenor has left his modern classic California punk bands Hard Girls and Shinobu on an indefinite hiatus, devoting his career to playing guitar in Jeff Rosenstock’s band and working on a book detailing the history of Asian Man Records (Elvis Is Dead, I’m Still Here: The Story of Asian Man Records is out in 2025 with CLASH Books)—all noble pursuits. But some of us yearn for the return to the yelps and riffs of the early-to-mid-2010s—for the voice-cracking choruses he shared with co-vocalist Morgan Herrell, the mathy melodies and anguished guitar solos. The people yearn for A Thousand Surfaces.

Hard Girls Summer is a state of mind, and though A Thousand Surfaces may not seem like a summer album in an obvious sense—most of it isn’t exactly danceable, and the lyrical content is hardly what I or anyone else would describe as “sunny”—it’s an album for when the sun beats down on your head so hard you can’t think straight; for waking up in the middle of the night straightjacketed in sweat-soaked sheets; for the afternoons that seem to start at 10 AM and wind on till sunset, full of nothing but lingering regret and wondering what you’ve been doing all day. It’s an album that feels loose, rocky, cooked.

That’s how Morgan Herrell’s cliff’s-edge shredding sounds as he launches into the opening lines of “Flying Dream”—“I had a dream I left my body / At the top of a hill and went flying / Out into nothing / Out over everything.” Arguably the album’s poppiest pop punk song, “The Chord” is the perfect bummer summer track, with a ‘90s radio rock rumble and lyrics like “It was great and it was fun / Running in the grass in the setting sun / But I’ll never smile again.” The track closes with a big, fat classic rock power-chord that would seem cheesy in almost any other context, but it’s the perfect punchline to “The Chord”’s nihilistic outburst. Power-poppy closer “Eddie Vedder vs. Jack the Ripper” lets chiming melodies and a repeated “come on now” chorus carry the record’s final moments into a blindingly bright oblivion: “We came this far and we can’t turn back now.”

A Thousand Surfaces is a profoundly physical record. When I say that it hits, I mean it almost literally. When I hear the combustible opener “The Quark” fall into the full-band scream and pummeling drums that kick off “Sign of the Dune,” I can feel myself absorbing the shock—as if, suddenly, my whole body is one big muscle. The physicality only ramps up, especially lyrically. “The knife broke the skin / I pulled it out and pushed it in again,” Herrell sings on “Thenar Space,” before repeating that delirious chorus: “Your body’s disgusting / A sick and vile thing / Haven’t you learned anything?” When your relationship to your body ranges from fraught to downright antagonistic, appeals to get you to appreciate it—no matter how well-intentioned—fall flat. Sometimes there’s solace in hearing someone say “You’re right, you are disgusting and horrifying—everyone is.” The physical form is the attacker, the victim and the weapon all at once. On most of these tracks, the body is an inescapable burden, and the closest thing to a way out is to use it to make as much noise as possible.

Hard Girls packed A Thousand Surfaces with shit-outta-luck songs about people who’ve accepted the cycle of disappointing others and being disappointed right back, often deep in the throes of addiction. “You said it’s all good when it’s mostly bad / The only thing left is that I ain’t dead yet,” Herrell sings on the Van Morrison-referencing “Die Slow.” While all other returns are diminishing, humor remains like the bones that have sloughed off the rotting flesh of their corpse, as he smirks, “Momma I’m taking drugs again.”

It feels odd to talk about how downright funny this downer record is, but there’s a strange goofiness in almost all of its most interactive and resonant moments. I can’t not be charmed by Herrell barking “When you were born, you came out a baby / And I came out a fully-formed lady” over the hammering guitar chords of “Sign of the Dune.” The song “Deep Gulch” is pretty fucking devastating if you really think about it, but Herrell’s delivery of the album’s denser and most jester-ass lyrical passages is hilarious: “What did you mean when you said I’m obscene? / I don’t think you know what I’m all about / I’ve got 10 fingertips pinching lips that sink ships / And when they tickle you it’s like they’re sucking dick.” It’s all a joke! It’s funny because it has to be, and when there’s nothing left to say, the jammy guitar-soloing outro does the talking.

A Thousand Surfaces is not “life-affirming” in the way that most albums that are described as “life-affirming” tend to be, but it is an album that reminds you that you’re alive, whether you like it or not, and you might as well keep it that way. Either there are no experts on living, or any of us could be one. “I’ve been doing this for years / Ever since I was born and breathed in the atmosphere.” Existence is coincidental and habitual, we might as well move on with the plan.

Grace Robins-Somerville is a writer from Brooklyn, New York, currently based in Wilmington, North Carolina. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her work has appeared in The Alternative, Merry-Go-Round Magazine, Post-Trash, Swim Into The Sound and her “mostly about music” newsletter, Our Band Could Be Your Wife.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin