Local Tracks on the Web
By David Pence
An impressive forward step for the band once known as Modern Syndrome. This song’s elemental structure (two verses, no chorus) and the streamlined playing are perfectly matched. Chris DiRocco (guitars), Sam Anderson-Patnode (drums) and Zach Higgins (bass) find a deep, scratchy groove that ratchets back and forth between two chords, accumulating tension for more than a minute and a half before resolving into a third chord. The youthful obsession in DiRocco’s great vocal hints at an array of feelings — embarrassment, contempt, world-weariness, perseverance — that seem to emerge organically from the music’s slow-motion frenzy. I applaud the band’s newfound restraint: instead of a guitar solo between verses, for example, we get handclaps.
Hannah Tarkinson’s husky and stylized voice has the passionate swagger of the true frontwoman. Occasionally you can wander out behind it to the licks and fills that provide a funky swing. Recorded and produced all echoey and clear at the Map Room by Ron Harrity, the track has accomplished performances from everyone — Chris McKneally on guitar and bass, Bekah Hayes on keyboards, Harrity on drums. Using elliptical images (“One year, roof falling down / One month more, roof has spun away”) and that elastic, emotionalized voice, Tarkinson draws you into the grave illness of a beloved elderly person. The crisis comes during a slow, quiet interlude, and then the band delivers a combination of muscular blows, with Tarkinson exhorting Nonnie to let go, stop fighting. This song’s kick may surprise you.
Good idea: a collage featuring a backdrop of original music onto which text — by German Dada theorist and surrealist poet-performer Hugo Ball — is projected via one of the preloaded voices in Mac’s speech software. A sneaky, appealing facet of “The Hobbyhorse” is the way Small Sketch Notebook (Nick Dentico) cues the listener to believe the mechanized voice is delivering a predictable, easily disregarded, expository text. But if you pin your attention to that voice, you discover the text is just as vital as the music — the latter a dark matrix of stringed-instrument patterns, synthesized tones from deep space, and fast-shimmering waves of tremolo guitar. The total effect might be even greater if Dentico remixed the voice two notches louder. Rich overtones emerged when I read the text (in a blog entry on SSN’s Myspace page) while listening. Best of all would be to get more — but not absolutely all — of it straight in the ear.
This track drops you into a high-pressurized atmosphere, where you’re struck not only by the severity of tone — using flurries of words, Eric Schwan takes on weighty matters (“I’m not taking lightly the collision of heaven and earth / Of death and rebirth / Oh, how it makes me dizzy”) — but also by the knotlike intensity of sound that defines the recording. Acoustic and electric guitars drive the song with tightly wound rhythms; an organ accents the minor-chord palette; the double-tracked vocal is recorded close and hot; nimble lead guitar lines adorn the song’s seams and edges. Like the work of Tall Dwarfs, “In Effigy” makes for satisfying, uneasy listening.
Here Cat Mousam uses rock and pop elements to buttress a Noise exploration: the unapologetic, rough playing aims for grooves and textures, and the accumulated racket ends up evoking, for this listener, a human being in the eye of the post-industrial storm. Really. In place of fully realized rock forms, we get indicators, signs: roiling drums (by Ben Walker), as well as hard-driving and careening guitars (Jack Kane, Walker); a weirdly relaxed, declamatory vocal (Deb Muhlberg); and a rudimentary structure consisting of a “verse” with unintelligible text, a pause, and then another whack at the verse. The band’s clamorous effects — which include many varieties of shrieking, wailing and other indications of emergency — are also covertly poetic. In this sense, Cat Mousam’s brand of smarts may remind you of Neil Hagerty and Pussy Galore.
David Pence is the host of Radio Junk Drawer, heard Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM; wmpg.org). During the past year, The Online Underground has featured reviews of 60 tracks by 60 different artists, a testament to the fertility of Maine’s musical soil. The column will appear periodically in the months ahead.