Don’t Panic Records – May 5, 2017
Few better Kentucky releases have come out than Mirror, Mirror since its release in 2012 – Louisville’s Wax Fang followed that up in 2014 with their remarkable space-rock-opera, The Astronaut, and now with Victory Laps. The music here is, in many cases, denser and more concise than songs on either of those releases, fleshed out with a big group of additional personnel and collaborators. As always, though, Wax Fang maintains a massive, in-your-face, unapologetic feeling to their music, thanks in large part to Scott Carney’s recognizable voice and confident delivery.
Opener “Pusher” gets right to it: a quick, shuffling synth-and-drum-driven intro, and we’re into the verse – Carney slurs long strings of lyrics together before crashing into a chorus, where he asks “if it’s the end of everything, then what am I a fighting for?” Next is “The Things I Do For Fun,” an outrageously fun track with a hook sure to get stuck in your head. Carney’s voice is distorted, his delivery is fast and punchy as he assaults you with “come on everybody let’s get ready to go because we’re going downtown to a rock and roll show” – the setup to the third chorus is huge, and the wildest moment of the entire album. “Decathect” provides some aural relief from the intensity of the prior song – a simple piano-driven introduction provides foundation for sweet, falsetto vocals throughout the song.
The second half of the album opens with “…” – a very nice, acoustic guitar lead-in for the next track. “Serenity Now” begins with plodding bass and synth, positioning itself as an anxiety-ridden anthem highlighted by the line “have I lost my mind, or is this just a sign of the times?” that caps off the end of each chorus. The verses on “Mystery Girl” – with their low synth pulses and dance music samples – could nearly pass for a Jamaican Queens track. The chorus here is filled out with shuffling drums, warped guitar, and Carney’s sweet admiration of the song’s subject, “she’s got a stigma, she’s an enigma, she’s a mystery even to her.” The brief “Lonely Nights” is another highlight of the album – it’s a well-produced track where Carney feels most intimate as he stutters through the third verse, “d-d-d-do you, do you still think about me … did you delete me from your m-memory?” and with beautiful harmonies on each repetition of “lonely nights.” “Exit Strategy” provides a dark, spaced-out finale to the album, replete with lengthy wordless sections and a dense orchestration.
Victory Laps is a step in a busier direction for Wax Fang, but this thicker texture is carried out well, providing opportunities for the band to increase the range of their live shows, given their full catalogue. Though not described as a concept album, themes of anxiety – both internal and external – are explored frequently; there’s often also the presence of a certain someone in the subject of many of the songs. No matter your experience with Wax Fang, it’s great to have some new music from them – Victory Laps is a well-crafted, wild ride of an album.
Tracks I Liked: Pusher!, The Things I Do For Fun!!!, Decathect!, Serenity Now!, Mystery Girl!, Lonely Nights!!
Ben Southworth – May 7, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Intense Experimental Noise
Gubbey Records – March 18, 2017
Over the weekend, Louisville’s Black Kaspar – comprised of members (past and present) of bands like The Belgian Waffles, Sick City Four, Tropical Trash, and Suspected Terrorist – released their new cassette, Year of the Centipede. The release is nearly unrelentingly noisy from start to finish.
“Enemy of the State” is droney and mostly arhythmic, save for the glissed bass that gives some structure, and pushes the track forward. It subsides suddenly, giving way to “Glitchfest,” which is all built around an electronic beat. The drums randomly count the rest of the band into washes of sound – when their interjections subside, the digital beat keeps moving along, perfectly in time. “Dark Nexus” is composed mostly of the synthesizer and guitar equivalent of white noise with guitar overtones howling across the background – by the end, the track has grown into something massive.
The title “Dislocation Machine” fits the next track well: it’s equipped with a bassline that rumbles unstoppably, repetitively at the bottom of the texture. Horns fade in and out of the song’s texture, sometimes allowing the guitar to take the forefront (maybe there’s some distorted synthesizers or an organ in there, too??). The first section on “Escape!” feels like its submerged underwater: dripping guitars and synths, even the drums come in bursts like waves crashing on the beach. Eventually, the track locks into a driving tempo with guitars screeching on top – the song somehow feels like it perpetually moves upward, both in pitch and intensity, before suddenly giving way to an echoey ending. “March of the Centipede” is just that – a march, with a dissonant guitar heartbeat providing a constant tempo while the remaining band members orchestrate chaos around it.
The latter side of the tape is fully occupied by “Landing Party,” a twenty-eight minute track that begins with droning guitars and a low, humming synth. By minute four, jazz drums have added some rhythm and structure, with a synthesizer (maybe its a theremin?) wailing on top; seven minutes in, bass and distorted bells define the groove and texture. Around the middle of the track, there’s a quiet break – a welcome relief from the constant intensity that preceded. A very long, slow, controlled escalation follows that – it happens so gradually, you almost don’t notice it happening. The track ends suddenly, but despite being nearly half an hour long, things never seem to stall out – the band manages to feel like its headed somewhere, toward something at all times.
Black Kaspar is a band that clearly knows how to play this sort of music – a group of experienced, technically proficient musicians that build subtle structures for their chaotic music to fit into, making the arrival points that much more intense and powerful. As a whole, Year of the Centipede is so overpowering that it becomes almost meditative and relaxing to listen to (or at least it was for me).
Tracks I Liked: Enemy of the State!, Dark Nexus!, Dislocation Machine!!, Escape!(!!), March of the Centipede!!!, Landing Party!!
Ben Southworth – March 20, 2017 – Kenwick Place