Michael’s Uncle and the Ramones would have been good friends. Michael’s Uncle plays primitive, rebellious, shout-it-out punk rock that doesn’t take any prisoners or care what you think about it. The fact that the vocals on Return of Dark Psychedelia that aren’t yelling are difficult to stomach isn’t going to stop Michael’s Uncle from singing them. That’s what they wanted to do, sucker, and who’s gonna stop them? You?
The band is quite tight, which is a surprise. They make a good show of being sloppy and rambunctious (“We Say,” especially), but they tip their hand on “Hellboy,” which relies on several interlocking rhythmic parts. Once I realized what they were capable of, I went back and re-listened to everything, and it becomes obvious fairly quickly that under the disorganized chaos of their vocal performances lies a band that knows itself very well.
Sure, “Mas Na To” is basically a Ramones tune, but “Prej Byznys” calls up a Rage Against the Machine rhythm and mentality with surprising ease. “Z Kontejneru Smrad” is an entirely enjoyable and convincing so-cal surf-punk tune (not kidding). “Nezmenis Nic” is a Primus-esque battle rock tune. This band has chops to spare, and they show them off to all who are paying close enough attention. This is primarily a punk album, but not in a Green Day way at all.
The only real flub I found in eighteen tracks was the plodding “Moon,” which makes no sense in the context of the album and does nothing helpful to the progression of the album. Every other track has something redeemable about it, and most have lots of redeemable things.
The musicians are talented. The songwriting skills are spot-on. The command of other genres is excellent. This is a punk album worth picking up if you like true punk attitude and old-school punk rock bands. Return of Dark Psychedelia is a surprise-laden release that rewards people who tune in.
I was at an Oklahoma City Thunder game yesterday, and “Blitzkrieg Bop” came on over the PA in the same loop as fragments of rap songs, “Jump Around” by House of Pain and various songs mostly known as Jock Jams. While the Ramones have suffered far worse indignities in terms of where they’ve been played, it still made me sad. The Ramones were the sound of rebellion at their time. Parents smashed their kids’ Ramones vinyls. There’s nothing rebellious about the Oklahoma City Thunder (sorry, KD). I swung a little bit more toward the “Punk is dead” argument that I hate (because that argument is usually a cop-out).
But then I heard Knife the Symphony’s Dead Tongues, and I feel much better about the state of rebellious music. Knife the Symphony plays loud, dissonant, unconventional rock music that has the tempos of punk, but the chords and artistic aesthetic of post-hardcore. Except in the hypnotic “Sold Out (In an Empty Room),” the vocalist doesn’t bother with melody; he just screams when he feels like it. It’s hardly rhythmic, and the lyrics are almost entirely unintelligible. If I played this for almost anyone who likes the radio, they would hate it.
And I’m sure that pleases Knife the Symphony. Their songs ooze punk/DIY attitude, from the album art (a commissioned painting, it appears) to the complicated inner casing and artwork to the note that their version of “Fallout” by Hornet is only available on the vinyl of this album. The fact that there is a vinyl of this album is awesome. The fact that Hornet, as far as I can tell, is a local band from Kalamazoo, Michigan, makes their choice of cover even more awesome. To top it all off, their myspace tag line is “you’re going to need earplugs.” This is punk rock.
Knife the Symphony‘s Dead Tongues features great songs, like the blistering “Without Parallels” and the dissonant “At the Races.” And the songs are the draw, because without great songs, all this punk attitude is pointless. Knife the Symphony is talented, and that’s not to be overlooked in all this. But it’s their aesthetic that so pleases me. Dead Tongues is definitely one of the most important things I’ve heard in a long time. The punk aesthetic is alive, and Knife the Symphony knows it. Keep at it.