Album Reviews

By Nick Darbonne

Bodacious, Purple (PIAS, 4/1)

I think a lot of bands are self-conscious. Not in the “don’t look at me!” way, but more in the way that makes everything they do seem calculated for maximum effect. “How can we get the most indie cred?” they may wonder. “How can we get Pitchfork to cover us?” “Should we cite Television Personalities as an influence, or would that reference confuse more fans than it would impress?”

This is all my imagination. But if you follow whatever’s “hip” in music these days, you’ll know what genres are cool to like and which aren’t. Mainstream pop music is cool to like now. Jam bands aren’t. Codeine-inflected rap is in. Ska punk is out.

Purple doesn’t care that they have some really uncool influences. Red Hot Chili Peppers? Every longboarder on every campus in California sings “Under the Bridge” at the urinal. Have they no shame? They don’t, because their popularity won’t rest on a consistent Instagram aesthetic. It isn’t that Purple as a band reminds me of anyone in particular; it’s that they give off the vibe of simply not caring. They’re drawing from all the music you probably like but won’t admit to liking. The eponymous sixth track of Bodacious even starts with vocalist Hanna Brewer cooing in her scratchy voice, “You won’t admit it.” I drew the connection myself; it’s probably not a self-referential thing.

The album actually takes off much earlier. Opener “Backbone” is a melodic punk anthem on being tough carried by Joe Cannariato’s groovy bass, Taylor Busby’s guitar borrowed from the heavier side of indie rock, and Brewer’s squeaks. (She also happens to play the drums on the record.) Then you get to the second track, which is my favorite because it’s honestly the most Red Hot Chili Peppers-meets-Beastie Boys thing ever. You’re either excited or repelled by that description, but it’s the only one I can give. It’s a weird funk-rap-rock hybrid where masculinity and femininity seem diametrically opposed: Busby alternates vocal duties with Brewer on the track and belts his lyrics in a hyper-masculine disposition (he literally goes “Hoo-hah!” over and over) as he invites her to get in his minivan with the “shag on the seats,” offering to love her like a “bag of that good green.” She responds in a series of taunts: “Yeah, I know you want this.” They seem to get along. They’re going to have a good time in his minivan.

There are a few moments where it really hits me that this is a true crossover record. A bit of softer, dreamier indie rock rears its head, especially on “Bliss” and the No Doubt-indebted “Pretty Mouth.” The songs still have an edge to them, but don’t situate themselves in any far-out genre that would leave them inaccessible to all but the headiest of heady kids or the most indie of indie kids.

Yeah, the music on Bodacious carries with it the odor of day-old pot smoke. It goes without saying that there are more than a few weed references on the album. But what stands out more is the way Purple unabashedly embraces a kind of sweaty party music that’s been pushed aside in the mainstream in favor of… I dunno, trap music. They combine a bunch of genres like funk, garage rock, reggae, and punk, which aren’t combined too often by bands with any talent. So I think something about Purple is different. This isn’t music that will win you any points if you use music taste as an accessory or own an Unknown Pleasures shirt, but if you want to let loose, you could do way worse. Actually, I’ll say it: Bodacious is the most fun genre-bending, all out rock album I’ve heard this year. You’re pretentious and boring if you disagree, and you only bought that shirt because you saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt wear it in 500 Days of Summer.

Eraser Stargazer, Guerilla Toss (DFA Records, 3/1)

Though it’s become somewhat of a nebulous term in the days since its formative years, punk rock has stayed instantly recognizable because it denotes an attitude more than it does a sound. This is as good a time as any for a brief history lesson: “punk” music emerged as a back-to-the-basics approach to rock music, usually expressed through musical minimalism utilizing the trappings of furious, lo-fi garage rock. It served as a direct response to the complex, overwrought sounds cultivated by progressive rock bands like Yes and Genesis, as well as the increasing commodification of rock music (arena rock, glam rock, and radio-ready rock in particular). Punk musicians weren’t rock stars. They were just punks, because the whole point was to dismantle stardom; anyone could be in a band. Anyone could be a punk. That gave you the creative freedom to do whatever you wanted. This was the ethos.

These days, people look back on the movement with pointed criticisms: it’s in vogue to complain about how punk was very white and male-dominated. It was, but that doesn’t totally delegitimize it. Considering how the fury and energy translated to offshoot scenes like hardcore, emo, riot grrl, queercore, even whole other genres (hello LCD Soundsystem), it’s safe to say that punk rock’s musical legacy is forever enduring. Whatever Guerrilla Toss is doing is part of that DIY trailblazing lineage. There is no pretension. There’s not even a rubric against which to measure their existence as a band. They’re just being themselves. In that way, the band doesn’t sound like anyone in particular, but it’s easy to notice pieces of dance-punk outfit The Rapture and a few other experimental “art-punk” bands like Black Dice or maybe more obscure acts like XBXRX or Palm.

You can approach their music more readily if you know that it functions as a sort of catharsis; so it says on the press release DFA handed out. This is the time to mention that DFA Records happens to be the record label of LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy. And DFA tends to put out dance music. So this is dance music. It’s weird dance music, though. You might not want to dance to it if you’re normal, but the music has an immutable danceability. There are groovy bass lines and there’s rawly recorded, unconventional percussion. There are wilting guitars and jolts of weird synthesizer sounds, plus a bunch of random noises, screeching, sirens, and… horns? There’s also Guerrilla Toss’s frontwoman Kassie Carlson yelling about chocolate and cinnamon sugar. She yells and shrieks about many other things, but I can’t remember much of what she says. What I pick up instead is her energy. Her lyrics themselves are as abstract as the music; in her performance she wields the ferocity of a mad poet. She is the most powerful presence on this album, even if the whole thing feels really amateur.

And it does. I guess in conventional terms, this album is annoying. Of course, I know that it’s supposed to be annoying. It’s also trance-like: the music itself is designed to be experienced in a state very different from our day-to-day one. (I’m not necessarily talking about drugs; the substance-free “high” that shows up in the right place and time is superior.)

Eraser Stargazer needs you to be in a trance because it has a sound that demands your full attention. There are a ton of forces at play in the music, from the moments of repetitive percussion to the math-rock influence that will jerk you out of the hypnosis and compel you to dance. If you want to experience whatever Guerrilla Toss is channeling, leave your expectations at the door.

I think some of their power might be diminished on record. Supposedly they put on an insane live show. As it stands, this album is a capsule of that energy, standing as both monument to unrelenting creativity and the soundtrack to it.

One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache, The Body/Full of Hell (Neurot Recordings, 3/25)

Little attention is paid to harsh noise music outside of a small following. Most people, casual listeners and critics included, will not engage with a noise record. Put simply, it is the most abrasive, difficult genre in existence. I, however, am a freak. Though I don’t regularly torture my ears, I will occasionally have moods where some noise-led therapy is necessary. This record in particular pulses with anger and seethes with misanthropy enough for even the most jaded noise veteran. (I’m kind of hoping those people don’t exist.)

Full of Hell is a really great grindcore band out of New England. They came to my attention through their record with legendary Japanese noise maestro Merzbow. For those not in the know, grindcore is hardcore punk and thrash metal taken to their limits. It’s often made a joke of, as few bands can play skillfully and with precision enough to avoid sounding like a bunch of trashcans being thrown at each other. Even then, few bands make it sound interesting. Full of Hell does.

Likewise, The Body is a similarly uncommon metal act, mostly because they decry all other metal acts. (According to interviews, they listen to very little metal.) Whatever they’re doing is experimental and boundary pushing: their sound combines elements of doom metal with industrial noise and ambient music. Their most recent album, No One Deserves Happiness, was pretty much an all-encompassing pit of despair. Naturally, these two bands mesh well. If, like me, you try and seek out the most extreme music imaginable, you can rest easy for a while. This one is intense.

The music on One Day tends to evoke the feeling of waging an impossible war. On the album’s second track, “Fleshworks,” there’s a voiceover played to the backdrop of a hellish industrial soundscape. We hear a woman recount in detail a failed suicide attempt. This album is unafraid to take you to the pit, only to taunt you with a track called “World of Hope and No Pain.” The song’s about as abrasive as anything else on the record; its irony is a hopeless struggle in a burning hole. Standout track “The Little Death” is probably the closest to a traditional black/doom hybrid metal sound, but it too is foreboding and rougher than what I’ve come to expect in the genre. Even the instruments want to make noise before they want to make music. It isn’t enough to give us standard extreme metal; everything here is coated in a toxic sludge.

It is, put simply, one of the darkest and heaviest albums I’ve had the pleasure of sitting through. It’s a different darkness than say, Charles Manson’s 1970 album, which also terrified me (but would you believe that it’s really good?). It’s an ambiguous darkness, because you don’t know what the intent behind the music is. If I’m remembering correctly, there’s a moment on Manson’s album where you can sense the room he’s in. You hear the conversations and laughter of the women in his cult. They’re sharing a joyous moment. Then they all begin to make music together. You know exactly what is going through their minds; you know how that story ends. With One Day, even the bands themselves refuse to talk about context. I can’t even speak as to the lyrical content of One Day. It’s unintelligible. The Body’s Chip King provides high-pitched shrieks that sound as though he’s undergoing extreme emotional or physical torment. Full of Hell’s Dylan Walker is less shrill when he yells, but it’s still a tortured sound. But what does it matter? The music happens to be louder than both of them. This music is oppressive; this music is the music of hell.

All we’re left with to ponder is some of the most extreme, inaccessible, abstract harsh noise accompanied by tortured screams and pounding, pulsing, grinding, thrashing rage. At the very least, I can tell that this is the music of aching. To ache like this is to ache without salve.