Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sucking and Screwing The Weapons of Dead Boys (CD mini-reviews) by Alison Ross

Now that The Coathangers have officially banished keyboards, much to the disappointment of the chick-punk triplet's more rabid fans, their sound boasts a leaner and meaner edge. Gone are the B-52s-inspired synth flourishes that lent their songs a jaunty, whimsical dimension. Live, too, the show suffers from Candice's absence - her faux-sinister magician persona, as she cast "spells" on her keys, was a thrill to behold. That said, the Coathangers still offer plenty to embrace - the early Cure post-punk influence is even more pronounced, and the vocals veering between nicotine-stained rasps and pre-pubescent girl yelps continues to enthrall, infusing layers of menace and mischief in equal doses. The de-cluttered sonic landscape makes for a less chaotically exuberant aural experience, but one gets a sense of primal urgency with the streamlined approach, especially on pure punk songs like "Springfield Cannonball."  And yet, the gals still manage to unleash their playful beasts on dizzily buoyant songs like "Merry Go Round." It's a shirt worth sucking, for sure.

Skinny Puppy have enjoyed a dark and twisted reign over the industrial music scene since 1982. Their dual-assault tactic deploys lacerating lyrics that target tyrannical politicians and a chronically slumbering society, and sinister sounds whose cathartic properties are equally matched by their capacity to incite rage and riot. 

Industrial music is innately inorganic - its tunes are contrived and forged from man-made machines and are more aligned with the idea of robots and router tools than with the soil and foliage of the natural world. 

Weapon, however, though its title and cover imagery evoke machinery - and malevolent machinery at that - is perhaps the most naturalistic sounding of the Skinny Puppy repertoire. It has a buoyant beat throughout much of the album, which nearly belies the creepy effect of Oghr's tracheotomy-patient-mimicking vocals. 

But somehow, the clashing sounds harmonize to form a zombie-disco sonic ethos. Of course, the influence of Kraftwerk and other electronic music pioneers  figure formidably into the equation, which lends substance to the Saturday Night Fever/throwaway new wave climate that is sometimes cultivated. I mean, I have no problems twirling euphorically around the dancefloor, but it feels strange doing it to Skinny Puppy, and yet that is exactly what I am compelled to do when I hear a track like "Paragun." Or I feel transported into a vintage video arcade, featuring as some songs do (retro-game) Commando-style effects. 

It's hard to imagine that at one time, in the 80s and 90s, Skinny Puppy stacked even more dissonant noise-layers on top of each other, creating a suffocating sound perforated by Ohgr's unholy screeching. Weapon, it's true, is cleaner and less cluttered, yet it's more like old Skinny Puppy than, say, 2007's Mythmaker. The amorphous industrial cacophony has given way to an almost glacial melody, sculpted by translucent synthesizers. But then Ohgr's medieval vocal monster stalks into the mix and rescues the whole thing from any hint of wimpy euphony. There is no emaciated emotion with this Skinny Puppy for sure. 

Conceptually speaking, the cover of Weapon is designed as an "invoice" to the American government who shamelessly used Skinny Puppy music to psychologically torment Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and the lyrics are designed to excoriate a world submerged in gun and torture culture. 

Weapon is a potent tool in the devastating canine arsenal. 

If you ever get a chance to catch SP live, do it! Their live show is a performance artist's wet dream, a Surrealist Vaudeville. 

The short-lived band the Dead Boys were basically the midwestern-northeastern American twins of premiere Brit-punks Sex Pistols. They emerged from Ohio but soon took root in the NYC CBGC scene, where they became known for putting on loud, snotty spectacles. The boys crafted songs of visceral turbulence leavened by a tongue-in-cheek sense of parody, as evinced by hyperbolic titles such as "Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth." Indeed, the Dead Boys' entire persona hinged on hyperbole - their live shows were exaggerated onslaughts of punk-glam fervor and their songs were screeching anthems for disaffected youth. Onstage, singer Stiv Bator's snarling swagger and Cheetah Chrome's mischievous machismo gave a visual depth to the fiery sonics that spoke to the gut. The Dead Boys are linked inextricably to what later became American hardcore. The widely lauded "Sonic Reducer" is a proto-hardcore song with all the fixings: lacerating guitars, gruff vocals, drumbeat on speed. The bulk of the album's songs are not quite as searing; most are hybrids of Stooges-like sounds and 70s classic rock. But cumulatively the songs pack a potent punch and lend a valuable view into the erratic evolution of punk rock. 

The bright, catchy choruses in Those Darlins' Americana-garage tunes are tugged down ever so slightly in an undertow of solemn melody. Songs like "Screws Get Loose" are bouyantly groovy, with vertiginously spinning guitars, but shot through with a shining, pensive melancholy. Other songs, like the bawdy, tongue-in-cheek tomboy anthem, "Be Your Bro," are less patently ambivalent in tone, but display a fixation with hefty hooks to snag your brain on. This is 80s dance-pop as bravely reimagined using a thoroughly modernized sonic blender whirling together gritty garage and mournful country. 

No comments: