Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Live: Pygmy Shrews, Pop. 1280

When: 6/11
Where: Death By Audio

I've reviewed White Suns recently, so I'll skip it except to say they're rad and I enjoyed them much.

I'd really like to get more into Pop. 1280.  They have a lot of elements I like - the nasty guitars and screaming of hardcore/post-hardcore and the foreboding tension of post-punk.  But Pop 1280's foreboding/gothic leanings overpower their punkier aspects.  Most songs are slow and drony, based around minimal, hypnotic drums and bass (or synth-generated b-lines).  Murky guitar and synth textures slide sharply between the pounding rhythms and Chris Bug rants over the top.

So far so good, or so you'd think.  But something is amiss.  Most of their songs are so alike in tone and tempo that they blend together and well, after ten or fifteen or twenty minutes, the repetitiveness and consistency becomes monotony.  Dark post-punk is often meant to be punishing, but there's a subtle difference between punishment and boredom and Pop. 1280 fall just slightly on the wrong side of that fence.  And I do mean slightly - there's a lot to love about the band.  If their ice stage presence doesn't warm your heart, their fat Suicide-esque synth riffs and harsh tones certainly will (if you're anything like me, anyway).  It's just that the impact and enjoyment become noticeably diluted as the length of the set exceeds its content, idea-wise.

In a way, the pieces of Pop. 1280 don't quite come together.  There's a disconnect between Bug, out front with the mic, and the rest of the band who are actually physically in the background.  Band members don't have to present themselves uniformly but they should have a unified vision of how they want to present the band as a whole.  Something about the gulf between the players and the frontman in Pop. 1280 makes it seem like you're watching two separate bands who each need the instrumentation of the other, so they tolerate (and mostly ignore) each other.  Musically, it's tight and it works together on paper, but in the delivery, it just doesn't gel. [video]

Of course, the juxtaposition with the Pygmy Shrews can't help - now there's a band who gel.  OK.  "Gel" may be the wrong word in as much as it evokes something smooth and translucent.  Pygmy Shrews are more like a blood clot, the physics remains the same - put the three shrews on a stage together and the result is monolithic.  They seem to share not only a sonic technique (loud) but also a sense of humor.  They're not a comedy act and they absolutely will fuck your shit up, but true to punk's dadaist roots, the Shrews know how to be fun and funny.

The Shrews are too cool for woords, but musically they are mostly "just" a punk band and their new material seems to be more straightforward than ever.  Of course, Ben Greenberg's aluminum guitar gives the band's sound a corrosive post-hardcore feel and Tia Vincent-Clark's bass has a knotted complexity you won't find in your average (or even above-average) hardcore band.  Greenberg has also been known to bust out a nasty, shredded solo.  It's these relatively small things - along with the band's absolutely perfect attitude - that set them apart from their punky peers.

What is the perfect attitude for a band like this?  Well, it's about striking a balance, caring and yet not giving a fuck, showing genuine affection for your audience while also telling them to fuck off and throwing beer cans at them (or whatever).  It's expressing real and urgent rage without taking that tongue out of your check. Too many bands take themselves too seriously and too many more don't take themselves seriously enough, failing to grasp the importance of punk and everything it stands for.  Pygmy Shrews are a rare breed, a band that's able to issue an equally big "fuck you" to folks on both sides.

But I doubt they'd put it quite that way.  I think they just like to play.  [video]

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