BLAG, Vol. 13: Oh, Split!
“Now that I’ve got a much greater appreciation for jazz, I should probably give Iceburn another try.” — Daniel Lupton, 2018
Here’s your chance, Dr. Daniel, H.C.P.M.F.!
Iceburn / Engine Kid, split 12" (Revelation)
There’s an old joke I heard two, tree times around Chicago about moving into a space Tony Victory once occupied, and all that was left was an old mattress, coupla burnt condoms, and a box of Iceburn 7”s. No one liked that band – except for me! You see my 18-year old Iceburn beanie to prove it. In a time where kids were still wrapping their heads around chugga chugga breakdowns, this Salt Lake City outfit melded together hardcore-influenced jazz. Their later output grew more improvised, therefore, longer – at a time when hardcore trends were leaning fast and short. As the hardcore around them became more commercial, and the postrock they were more sonically akin to grew into its own cottage industry, Iceburn held a lonely island of their own. On this split with Engine Kid, they riff on one of my favorite classical pieces, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
I’m surprised at how little-regarded Engine Kid are, as Greg Anderson went on to Goatsnake, Sunn 0))), and start Southern Lord Records. It was the mid-90s and Revelation Records had branched out to more accessible sounds – lots of indies did, in hopes of getting the next Subpop/Nirvana partnership in the alternative rock feeding frenzy. Engine Kid did the soft/loud thing, where soft was the meandering picking of a post-Slint indie soundscape, and loud was a walloping crunch of doomy hardcore. Perhaps it’s the company they kept, but there’s no vocals on this release – letting the distortion pedal do the heavy lifting.
Shotmaker / Maximillian Colby, split 12" (Nervous Wreck Kids)
The first song on the Max Colby side made it onto the first DIY punk mixtape given to me, and it fires off such a scorcher of a side: perfect chaos to silence tension, manic drums, and eyes-rolled-back harrowing vocals. Woefully obscure, despite helping lay groundwork for what would eventually become screamo, the band ceased when bassist Bob Baynor died suddenly in his sleep in 1995 (hear Avail’s tribute here). Members went on to form the great Sleepytime Trio.
The Shotmaker side is my favorite work from this Canadian trio’s canon. Like Max Colby, it’s emo, heavy on the dynamics and riddled with twisty time signatures. Unlike Max Colby, the songs careen along more linearly, so it’s more of a reckless driver than rubbernecking into space – they fit a sound similar to their Ottawaian mates, (Union of) Uranus. Upon this 2018 listen, it’s pretty clear how proto-At the Drive In this sounds. Should’ve signed to Grand Royal!
Screeching Weasel / Born Against, split 7" (Lookout!)
It’s a concept record: Ben Weasel writes lyrics for Born Against and Sam McPheeters writes lyrics for Screeching Weasel. The bands play their respective, yet contrasting styles: Screeching Weasel sing about Salvadoran soldiers killing 800 civilians in the El Mozote Massacre in their Ramones-flavored pop-punk, and Born Against pay homage to Bay Area institution Janelle with misanthropic hardcore. It’s novel, but it works as an analogy of 90s punk, where disparate sounding bands were often pals in the broader punk community. Shows at the time were all over the place – for better or for worse.
Similarly, Coalesce and The Get Up Kids each covered a song by the other. The Get Up Kids turn “Harvest of Maturity” into a tender pop anthem with a weak-ass breakdown, and Coalesce do what they do, which I always describe as “that scene in Robocop where the dude takes a toxic waste bath.”
Life’s Halt / No Reply, Goodbye California... ...Hell-O U.S.A. split 7" (Indecision)
One neat thing about age is being able to retroactively contextualize titanic shifts in hardcore. As the 90s made way for the advent of the next millennium, the scene had sprawling subgenres, all of which kept splintering, and the DIY(ish) infrastructure to support it.
All that bloat made an undertow for bands to bring it back to basics, and this split (made for the as-significant tour) kind of eclipsed that renewed spirit that enveloped underground scenes throughout the United States.
This split is seared into my brain for sentimental purposes: My friend Justin from DC and I set out to Cleveland Fest, which got cancelled. The bands scattered around the region, so we meandered from one show to the next, meeting new kids in every city, and crashing on the floors of kind strangers. We made it up to Life's Halt and No Reply in Buffalo, New York, and somehow turned that into a few days in Canada. We simply injected ourselves into the DIY network and let it run its course.
Protomartyr / R. Ring, A Half of Seven split 7" (Hardly Art)
I'm strangely apathetic to Protomartyr; there's contrarian fatigue to the "Joy Division as a Genre" post-punk that's the du jour of the stylishly hip. However, every time I put them on the turntable, I can't take it off. This split felt like a gamble: What if it was a throwaway Protomartyr song? I certainly enjoyed The Kelley Deal 6000 – 20 years ago – what's her music going to be like now? Whoa, this record is kind of pricey, and the Helvetica Letraset isn't even straight – will it be worth it?
Assuredly, the Protomartyr song is fantastic. Then Kelley Deal's featured vocals kick in and she just elevates Protomartyr to the next level. Then she takes it to another level after that. It's such an impressive and unexpected vocal performance, I was stoked to hear what came next.
Thankfully, the R. Ring side wasn't a simple throwback. Perhaps it's a freedom from the constraints of high expectations, or just time for these songs to marinate and nurture, but "Loud Underneath" is unique, and playfully experiments while maintaining momentum.
The Impossible Five / The Jerks 7”, split 7" (Lovitt)
There were a lot of smart melodies going on the DC area around this time: Chisel, Trusty, et al. This particular split flew a little under the radar, so it's worth a revisit a couple of decades later.
“Spy-rock” was what was thrown around when describing Virginia’s The Impossible Five, which brought to mind Bond soundtracks. However, this band exhibited much more. They sounded frenzied, with heavy swagger, yet still maintained that DC flavor (those Guy Picciotto-esque backing vocals always do it). Jason Simon eventually went on to start the Washington, DC stoner rock trio Dead Meadow.
The Jerks were a much more low profile band, a sort of stop-gap for Shelby Cinca when Frodus wasn’t on tour. Maybe a fun escape from the high-energy spasms of his normal band? The garage rock staples are there: "Louie Louie" chords, "Yeah, yeah!" chants, and lo-fi production that can't quite contain the high energy "WAAAAAAAAAAAAHS."
SBSM, Leave Your Body 7" (Thrilling Living)
ISS, s/t 7" (Sorry State)
The House of Tomorrow trailer
Here's this upcoming punk rock coming of age film, a directorial debut by Peter Livolsi. In the trailer, the protagonist is introduced to punk through this Garden State moment. The song? It's by Football, a short-lived Chicago supergroup consisting of Jimmy Hollywood (Baseball Furies, Tyrades), Mike Lust (Lustre King, Tight Phantomz), Srini Radhakrishna (White+Outs, France Has the Bomb, Space Raft, The Guilty Pleasures), and Jered Gummere (The Ponys, Hot Machines, Bare Mutants, The Guilty Pleasures). One problem: if these guys are your introduction to punk, then this kid is ruined. NEVER RETIRE.
Arms Race, The Beast ep (Painkiller)