Friday, June 19, 2009

Statehood. Lies and Rhetoric (Self-Released, 2007)

"I feel confused because there's no sensation/ We lack a motive and we change our roles."

In February 2008, Statehood's lead singer Clark Sabine was diagnosed with cancer. On June 17, 2009, Sabine passed away at the tragically young age of 33, and the DC scene lost a true talent.

Statehood, a four-piece boasting the devastating ex-Dismemberment Plan rhythm section of drummer Joe Easley and bassist Eric Axelson, along with Sabine on vocals/guitars/keys and Leigh Thompson on guitars/keys, released their self-titled debut in 2007. The LP is a spot-on collection of classic DC-post-punk-style burners, with an emphasis on pummeling syncopation and a taut, live wire guitar attack, super tight and super catchy. Statehood bring a serious sound to the table, steeped in righteous anger and amorphous paranoia, with Sabine's edgy tenor delivering the vaguely political lyrics with force and desperate conviction.

Not surprisingly, Axelson and Easley are key to the band's success. One of the mightiest drum and bass duos of recent memory, these guys have an intuitive understanding of each other's approach and style, crafting rock solid rhythmic foundations on top of which Sabine and Thompson erect galvanized towers of six-string treble. Axelson, in particular, with his distinctly dub and reggae-informed playing, injects each song with a manic, basement-frequency energy, keeping the melodies deep deep deep in the pocket and freeing the guitars -- played by Sabine and Thompson with just the right blend of control and chaos, dual lines feeding off each other in a compelling serpentine system -- to slash and burn at will.

Each song on this LP stands in the shadow of District giants like Fugazi, Jawbox, Burning Airlines, and Faraquet. Plus, it was produced by ex-Dismemberment Plan guitarist Jason Caddell at Dischord's house studio Inner Ear, so this is about as DC as it gets. And that's just great, especially when you've got tunes like the throbbing opener "Story's End," flinty, panicked standout "Save Yourself," and the bracing "No, I Don't Think You Want to Know" up your sleeve. "Hidden Views" wraps jagged, hacking chords around fluid bass lines and chattering hi-hats, while "Disconnect" bobs along over waves of punchy low end as the riffs stab and echo and richochet, sawing ragged, awesome holes in the song's fabric.

According to a statement on their website, Statehood plan to release 10 songs recorded before Sabine's passing. Here's hoping those tracks see the light of day, and here's wishing Sabine's family and friends the strength to deal with their loved one's untimely demise.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Act Surprised is taking the day off and will return with a new post on Friday, June 19.

Monday, June 15, 2009

National Skyline. This = Everything (File 13, 2001)

"They can fill my lungs with air/ They can tell I barely care."

National Skyline sprang from the fertile post-punk breeding ground of Champaign-Urbana, IL, home to '90s semi-stars Braid, the Poster Children, Castor, and Hum. In fact, National Skyline boasts refugees from several of those acts: bassist Jeff Dimpsey did time in the Poster Children and Hum, and singer/guitarist Jeff Garber used to be in Castor. That qualifies as a supergroup, in some admittedly tight circles.

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Hum's patented spaceface drone, National Skyline's sound leans heavily on glitchy digital rhythms, haunting, breathy vocals, and smooth-to-abrasive guitar work. The end result is darkly atmospheric and surprisingly hooky, a unique listening experience and beautiful in a sinister way, like gleaming, winterbright ice masking the dark and deadly waters of a frozen lake.

This = Everything is National Skyline's second full length, following 2000's self-titled debut, and it's a pretty intriguing piece of work. Over the course of 10 songs and 40 minutes, these sons of the Land of Lincoln articulate their singular vision, in turn crafting a collection of tunes calling to mind the more tuneful aspects of post-rock and the cheerful dance floor knowhow of New Order. Rhythm is king throughout, as live drums and programmed beats blend to provide a solid foundation for the fluid, minor key-dominated bass and guitar interplay. Garber delivers the lyrics in a dreamy, blissed out exhale of a voice, adding to the outer limits feel of the LP.

"Some Will Say" herky-jerks the album off to a nice start, Dimpsey's rich bass line bolstering off-kilter beats behind chiming loops and Garber's swelling guitar. "Reinkiller" charges forward, its dubby momentum and pinballing riffs giving way to digitally-inflected power chords. The delightful bounce and swagger of "A Night at the Drugstore" is an album highlight, its effortless buoyancy providing one of the few downright cheerful periods of an otherwise pretty shadowy album.

"A Million Circles" ropes you in with its hypnotic melody and crisp syncopation, waves of synth gone glassy and smooth, shattered at the crucial moment by Garber's frantic solo. The acoustic "Cadence of Water" provides a welcome organic counterpoint to the rest of the LP's mechanistic sheen, weaving poignant strums around lilting ebb-and-flow vocals, delicate and wounded.

National Skyline aim for a kind of desolate, gorgeous soundscape, and inevitably hit the mark. This = Everything conjures up the beauty of an oil refinery at night, its smokestacks and halogen lights in full man-made bloom, artificial in every way but sublimely stunning all the same.

a night at the drugstore - national skyline