Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Austerity Program- Beyond Calculation

Let me get this out of the way- Yes, I can hear the Steve Albini influence. I hear more Big Black than Shellac, though, so, let's say it's true- let's say that the Austerity Program is totally copping Steve Albini's sound. So? Steve isn't doing Big Black sounds these days. No one is. No one has the sheer bloody-minded perfectionist attitude about being obnoxious that he had. So, if they wanted to be a Big Black cover band, I'd say "Bravo!". I can think of few more worthwhile subjects of a tribute.
But, the truth is that they are far, far more than that.
Let me also get another thing clear- this is the finest slab of noise rock I've heard all year, and as a friend put it- this record "kills". Get it, as soon as you are able. If you like noise rock, you will have a new favorite.
So, now, let me talk about The Austerity Program. They do incredibly precise noise rock with a heavy Steve Albini influence, but I also hear everything from Minnesota's Arcwelder to some Duane Denison guitar to even some John Carpenter . In other words, they are big on precision, repetition,  formula, theme and variation, and loudness. They, thankfully, have dispensed with song titles, and yes, I say thankfully. If you've been in a band, you know that songs rarely are organized around the title. In rehearsal they are " That fast one" or "That one that switches tempo on the second verse" or better still " That one you were playing yesterday". After that, on the setlist taped to the stage, they'll get a one word descriptor that may or may not include the "official title"- like for my band's  cover of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" which we ended on a coda to incorporate a bit of Suicide's "Ghost Rider" we just put "Ghost" on the setlist. I don't know that we ever said the actual name of anything. A song called " Burnt to a Crisp" just got called "Crispy", etc, etc. So it's so much more honest and clear to me to just use numbers- and if I ever am in a band, again, I will cop this, most certainly. It's that efficiency in practice that makes something as messy as "noise" palatable. ( Ever notice that? No matter how random the visual is, a sound is more enveloping, with nothing to really fix it in place. So, discipline, formula, and theory is much more necessary to organize sound and put it to use, artistic or otherwise)
Justin also clearly plays guitar like a painter uses a brush or knife- he's applying blocks of sound towards an idea, not trying to cop a lick, while Thad plays bass like a combination of a Punk and a Metalhead- it's got the treble cranked for note definition, but it's overdriven right up to the point of fuzz, sometimes going into fuzz bass territory, but usually staying just this side of that kind of distortion. The resulting sounds are like a tank's tread- massive and crushing, but with a cutting precision that makes it "fit" into patterns that organize the sound to have propulsion, and heft. It's noise, but not chaos. Sure, there's a drum machine, but we're well past that: it's manipulated, and structured more like samples than some kind of conveyor belt robo-rhythm. No, it's a cool-headed intention that keeps the beast on track.
They have that mix of "cool" and "hot" down pat, mind you. You'll have a distorted instrument ( read "hot") playing a five note figure in a minor key ( read "cool") with lyrics that are alternately shouted ( read "hot") and sung ( read "cool") and spoken ( read cold- nyuk, nyuk, nyuk)
Since I've mentioned the lyrics-they do the "observational" lyrical thing, of describing the screwed up situations people get into, but there's a moral center of things here. I can't quite put my finger on where that moral center is, but it's definitely not the nihilist thing this kind of music so often gets into.
Yes, I know that they're from New York. I bet if they had better offers for day jobs in the midwest they'd fit in better there. The sound is somewhere midway between Chicago and Minneapolis, though. If they up and moved to Madison, or La Crosse, I would think that made sense. Musically, they belong halfway between Touch and Go and AmRep. If that's not an endorsement, I don't think you're reading the right blog, please go back to Pitchfork, and leave me alone.
So far, this probably reads pretty dry, right? That's the thing, right there- that "dryness" is exactly what gives enough structure to the noise that it rocks. Giant reverberating walls of feedback might seem like a lark, but they don't rock. Noise demands structure.
So, there's the other part- the noise part- as I type this, I'm wearing a "Noisemaker Effects" T shirt - that's definitely part of the credo, as well- use delays set on short repeats to make it metallic, redonkulously overamped, in the red guitars, even a pitchshifter set on "squeal"- the instruments are pushed so hard that melody is sometimes only implied, and other times, abandoned. I cannot play this music quietly. It needs to be loud enough to cause structural damage- and there's austerity for you- structures and strictures that are destructive.
This rocks so very, very hard. It's like magnets, bitch. It's a dronestrike of rock that might just violate the UN Charters. Ted Nugent fears this much firepower. This is like a diamond- structurally so sound, comprised of such a tightly compacted group of already hard elements that it's the definition of rock.

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