Saving Grace Under Pressure


With Dillinger Escape Plan tear-assing through topographic oceans, Black Dice casting hardcore nightmares as tangerine dreams, and Mars Volta whipping about at 2,112 mph, the schism betwixt punk and prog seems lately to be a nonissue—as if Johnny Rotten traipsed around with a T-shirt reading “Fine, I Guess Pink Floyd Is OK After All.” But Gold Standard Labs, the indie imprint co-owned by Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, is the bold antithesis to Volta’s labyrinthine concept-rock—a label of spontaneous no-fi noiseniks throwing their art against the wall, seeing if it sticks, and then attempting to fashion careers out of whatever’s left.

Omar, though, likens his own intricate art-rock to the clamorous art-scuzz of GSL bands—detached shrug-punks GoGoGo Airheart, caustic electro minimalists I Am Spoonbender, shuddering dirtballs the Starvations—since they all “put every inch of sweat and passion into what they can be doing.” Then again, maybe both Rush and the Fall liked weird noises and checked out too many library books. It’s hard to tell whether the sturm und clang of GSL’s lab rats is a noise-as-punk art statement or just sonic residue from whatever post-post-punk they’re attempting to (re)create. But fuck it, they’re all immediate and rather convincing.

On one hand, Seattle’s Chromatics used to gig around with one of the Ligeti-lovin’ artfuck Blood Brothers; on the other hand, there’s no evidence their bassist knows how to play. Tones are poked relentlessly; on “Felt Tongue” the shit just rattles off the pickups and into “Skill Fall,” where Chromatics mercifully reverse the whole track.

Unabashed spontaneity lights the GSL Bunsens. The jagged edges of Chrome Rats vs Basement Rutz fight the good punk fight with volume and syncopation (i.e., not volume and speed), like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with no production and a mouthful of throbbing gristle. But unlike the YYYs, Chromatics’ stutter-beats are decidedly unsexy—you can’t fuck to ’em unless your partner is prone to violent and abrupt epilepsy. With a confident aimlessness, the whole affair is brash, audacious, almost arrogantly unpolished.

The Vanishing are more refined, but that doesn’t make the one dude and two sistas of mercy in the GSL goth-dance troupe less impulsive. Songs for Psychotic Children starts and ends with two minutes of fuzz. Of the eight tracks left, the band only bothered writing lyrics for five. Those five are flange-ridden austerity like Christian Death double-timed and remixed by New Order, but singer Jesse Eva will always have braces on her fangs. Goths rarely sound this fun—being goths and all—but the Vanishing’s cobbled riffs are the B-52’s for the Emily the Strange set, dancing this mess into the ground.

The surprisingly danceable “Skin’s Getting Weird,” the lead and title cut on Kill Me Tomorrow’s teaser EP, should be this summer’s “House of Jealous Lovers,” but NYC tastemakers will never face the truth—these San Diego-via-Portland weirdos do the pseudo-genre (i.e., “neo-no-wave”) better than anyone: Phased guitar noise, a “chorus” made up of asymmetrical howling, Birthday Party rubber-room drumming, onomatopoetic grunts as background vocals.

The EP’s cover of Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” is certainly deadly in a post-Alec Empire kind of way, but when drummer-singer Zack Wentz hits “Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero” in perfect Mark E. Smith monotone, it’s devastatingly (and perfectly) tossed-off. Vega’s “America, America is killing its youth” was terrifying—now Kill Me Tomorrow reacts with so-fuckin’-what marblemouth. Twenty-five years from now, after we all glow from nuclear radiation, may some kids sing “Skin’s Getting Weird” with the most heart-wrenching indifference ever put to record.