Thursday, August 4, 2011
Martian Dance Bands of the Week! - X's For I's and Pregnant
A few weeks back a dude named Ethan sent me an email with some very nice words about Martian Dance Invasion! and a download link to a rad record called Gravity Wins Again. It's a 2010 release by Ethan's band, Portland's X's For I's, who--full disclosure--share a mutual friend with me in my old buddy Conan Neutron of Victory & Associates, Mount Vicious, Replicator, etc. Being the first person nice enough to send me free music as a direct result of this blog (let the record show that it took roughly 20 days for the first fringe benefits to roll in from this blog--not too shabby), i would be remiss if i did not grant it a few in-depth listens and a review. Good thing that it's pretty damn great.
(NOTE: it may happen--nay, it will happen--that many of the bands i pimp out in Martian Dance Invasion! will be people i know, or have ties to people i know. After touring in a band and meeting/helping out scores of people in bands for 13 years straight, and playing in other bands before that, it's sort of unavoidable. That being said, if you want to send me some music to review or check out, contact me! My info is over in that thar menu to your right. I don't only cover friends' bands, i swear, because some of my friends play in crap bands. The old "they are SUCH nice guys" syndrome, or "when bad bands happen to good people." It's a thing.)
So! X's For I's. Portland. The Pacific Northwest really kills it when it comes to noise-rock, people. From Form of Rocket in Salt Lake City to the Northwest's opposite corner, Seattle's, overabundance of riches (The Bismarck, Police Teeth, Absolute Monarchs, AFrames, The Intelligence, etc. etc.), there's a real appreciation out West for dissonance and hard-driving, scrapey/shredding volume. X's For I's is a worthy member of the fraternity, having schooled themselves in the 90s Dischord Records post-hardcore that bred Fugazi, Jawbox, Q and not U (woah, another alphabet-based name), and even the more emo-tinged Hoover/Crownhate Ruin family tree that has somehow managed to inform Absolutely here in Milwaukee. Gravity Wins Again is full of chewy, rhythm-heavy morsels that stop, start and jigsaw (honestly, there are more starts and stops on this record than a game of Freeze Tag) their way from the Ex-Models to Unwound with a clarity of purpose as direct as their thwomping drums. "4-Eyed Square" in particular owes a lot to the Jawbox catalog, from the J.Robbins-style vocals all the way down to the J.Robbins-style riffage.
This has become an overly name-droppy review. I apologize.
From the handclaps and segmented riffs of "Components" to the harmonized leads and the "you do the math, baby" singalong of "Wolf Tickets," to the head-spinning rhythms of the excellently titled "Alligator Fuckhouse" (which, at the risk of invoking the mighty 'Gazi once again, closes its final 30 seconds with an inspired drop from full-on rock to a gorgeously subdued Lally-style bass-flavored meditation), Gravity Wins Again is a fully engaging thirty-five minutes of driving, impassioned badassery that makes me really mad that we haven't played with them on any of our West Coast tours yet. The album can be streamed in its entirety on X's For I's Bandcamp site, so give it a click.
Meanwhile, in Berkeley,
...i did a bit of shopping at the legendary Amoeba Records and was lucky to stumble onto a copy of another killer late discovery from 2010, the self-titled 12-inch LP from Brooklyn's Pregnant. I first became aware of these guys when my pal Alli from Brooklyn's Nick Cave-worshiping Bootblacks hipped me to them as a possible band to play with on tour. A month or so later, Latest Flame Dan is showing me their LP in his bedroom with the sort of "dude, look what i discovered" exuberance that we over-35 types haven't forgotten but run into way less often than we did in our early 20s.
Pregnant is a bare-bones bargain-basement affair; the album sleeve is black and white and quite possibly was printed at a Kinko's, while the inside contains nothing even resembling anything so modern as a "download code." The music is equally stripped down and basic: songs of a ninety-second average length blur past the ears fueled by Mission of Burma-style post-punk riffs re-imagined by a garage-punk Descendents. The wrist workouts "Do You Feel It?" and "Help" kick things off with double-stroked sixteenth-note guitar chords with only the slightest hint of fuzz, the edge coming more from the downhill rhythm section and Kevin Manion's raspy, Greg Sage vocals.
For a collection of blink-and-you-miss-em supernova bursts of garagey proto-punk, these songs have some serious groove. The frenetic pace is broken only slightly by the waltzing "Skin Display," which spends a whopping 1:37 hammering through a couple verses and a chorus before moving on with a cough to the similarly-abbreviated "Toothache." Both songs swing and sway with some Enchantment Under the Sea slow-dance magic, but don't waste any time and rock no less harder than the barnburning "My Generation" two-note shamble of "Wormie" and "You Think."
It's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to make straight-ahead punk rock sound fresh and exciting in 2011, but Pregnant pull it off with a combination of attitude, musicianship, and above all, vibe. From the economical packaging to the appropriately lo-fi (read: raw as hell), minimally-overdubbed (if at all) recording, there is a welcome lack of bullshit in this record that is as much a statement of purpose as an accident of economics. If you luck out and find this in the vinyl bin, grab grab grab and spin spin spin. Sure, the band posted a link on their blog to download a vinyl rip of the album (and frankly, i'm shocked they even bothered with such nonsense like a blog, although it hasn't been updated since last September), but this was meant to be listened to with needle on wax, and none of those bullshit ones or zeros.