Originally written by Ian Chainey
One night, when I was spun out of my gourd on dark roast and in total dick mode, I announced that pigfuck, especially the Big Black-inspired portion, was the new dad rock. I paid for it. I watched my Facebook friend count tumble faster than a mountain goat with a sprained hoof. Not cool. And, I mean, yeah, as far as sweeping generalizations go, it was a bit shit. Songs About Fucking ain’t exactly something that was echoing throughout the local park that Memorial Day weekend, so forcing it under the same umbrella as Night Moves meant I had some work cut out for me if I actually wanted to take that quote to the major leagues. But, in these eyes, there just aren’t a whole lot of folks without a seriously receding widow’s peak or a couple of toddlers that are championing that ol’ noisy, grindin’ sound. Hard to stay away from piss-poor blanket statements when you only field players that’ll be releasing flexi-singles in AARP newsletters in a decade or two, you know?
The catalyst for all of this? The new Austerity Program, Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn. The membership of this NY punk duo don’t exactly dodge the above categorization; they’ve recently brought new life into the world (congrats) and, like yours truly, there’s some bald spots that the sprinkler no longer hits on the hair lawn up top. Plus, a little YouTube digging will fetch you these dad-rock values:
Taking a gleeful dump on what hipsters are popping girl-pants-suppressed wood for. Scope their ’04 promo video on YouTube for an already-tired, but still clever bit on the resurgence of second wave black metal.
Keeping it traditional. Check their most recent promo vid to see that they’re still recording at snail speed by cutting tape and, confusingly, keeping it analog…with a drum machine.
Not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump away from “It’s Still Rock n’ Roll to Me,” so, par for the course so far, right? Well, sorta. See, The Austerity Program has always been behind the eight ball. Not to get all cry-me-a-river on you, but instead of being longhaulin’ vets with the battlescars of Christgau across their back catalog, they unluckily got into this subgenre when most folks were ready to hit the snoozebutton until a new Shellac dropped. They were the last gasp, the last breath of air, waking up already buried ala The Vanishing. They were a band that you had to find for yourself, either by getting recs off a Rapeman thread or peaking through Hydra Head’s back catalog for pre-beardo gold. (“Piebald?” It’s a long story, friend…)
So, unlike a lot of the nouveau trad-metal bullshit artists out there that want to Elizabeth Loftus themselves into your memories, the fourth release from these guys isn’t exactly riding a buzz into shore. And, I’m going to be brutally honest, that’s…not…good, ’cause not a lot of folks my age aren’t gonna be able to relate to something that lacks the nervous twitch of the first wave; when this shit wasn’t confined to recognizable traits and was spreadin’ its tentacles in all directions, reaching brand-spanking-new timbres thanks to youthful abandonment and the classic, I don’t give a fuck ‘tude. That’s not really here. Provided that you know the context, halfway through “Song 25,” it’s like you’ve been stealing signs, picking up on every tipped pitch. The wild card, though, is what might happen when you don’t know the context.
Look, part of your frustration with this is going to be my fault. I’m already instilling set expectations when you’re better served going into this blind. See, it’s tough when you roll with the underground indie punk crowd and you have a drum machine in tow. You’re either gonna get categorized an Albinist and left to rot on the dusty shelves that proudly display Our Band Could Be Your Life three cubbies down, or you’re gonna get saddled with Bastro-itis and be expected to make leaps and bounds on subsequent records. It’s not like a shit critic like me has the infinite possibilities of the human genome to go on here; I’m stuck with the same rote comparisons as an elementary school rock history textbook. But, still, The Austerity Program kinda sits in the middle of all of this, unconcerned with trying to evolve this sound past what it was in ’87/’88 and not exactly making a carbon copy of Touch and Go classic, either. So, it dangles precariously between being an enjoyable exercise and just, well, an exercise; a way for the dedicated dad punker to work off the flab and get some reps in while dropping the brood off at Little League.
But, what if that’s not you? What if you never spent a few months down at the Olduvai Gorge that’s, like, SST/AmRep/etc. and shit with a pick-axe, unearthing gem after gem of post-Black Flag, pre-MTV accepted underground punk?
I think you might actually dig it.
For the uninitiated MetalReviewer, imagine an indie Godflesh with punkier leanings and go from there. Musically, The Austerity Program is a bit more expansive than you’d expect, riding the waves of a bass drone on “Song 25” while Justin Foley drops some spokels like he’s living out a D. Boon-inspired fantasy. Spine tingles it does not provide, but it’s inventive and we’ll take it. Hang with it a couple minutes and it mutates into something pitched between driving rock and an industrial clatter. Chunky riffs are fed through the assembly line supervisor that’s their Roland. Each clipped cymbal or hard-attacking snare metallizes those downward guitar/bass strokes and cuts ’em into precise blasts of noise. It’s a nice counterpoint to their FUCK DIGITAL stance, that the riffs are underpinned by this literally inhuman device which brings about some basic musicophical (my word, not the English language’s) quandaries that’ll keep ya up if indulged in some espresso after dinner (If you’re solely of the “Drum Machines Have No Soul” bumpersticker set, I guess). And it’s kinda great how damn gratifying it sounds when the band shakes off the restraints of their lockstep rhythms and mashes on the accelerator, like they do on the end of “Song 27.” The guys understand ebb and flow; they know how to poke the right buttons at the right time.
For me, though, those are some well-worn buttons. It ain’t fresh. Check the blueprint: You got some older gentlemen and an older drum machine, offering cheeky resistance to the weird foliage that has sprung up around ’em. But, to be honest, there’s really nothing wrong with that, either, especially if this is your first time getting your passport stamped. We all need bands that take up the torch of the previous generation. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, for folks that have played this game of Twister a lot and aren’t exactly putting up a Craig’s List ad for this sound, it lacks the creative spark of the trailblazers. The songwriting isn’t strong enough to launch it past being a nostalgia piece of a time I don’t readily pine for. It’s a detriment when I can’t relate; constructing a big wall between me and enjoyment when it’s a sound that I feel has already had its alpha and omega. So, dad rock it is. Backsliders ain’t bad, but it ain’t in my current wheelhouse–the songs are overlong, and have a tendency to sound samey, which makes a four-song extended player one note and boring; something it should never be–and I’m not gonna fake like I get it. That might incite a few folks to stop surfing for a baby seat and drop me from a social network. So be it. (I’m sure I’ll do the same when someone cuts off a turd and nestles it atop a Khanate clone. Wait, they already do that? Y’ouch, I take it back. We still friends? No? It was the shit review, wasn’t it. Dammmmmmn it).
For you, though? The listener with the tabula rasa? I can’t dissuade you from at least giving this a test drive. Yep, you’re better off dropping dollars on things that have the thumbs-up from Corey Rusk (or, if you’re looking for hidden Hydra Head gems, the insanely complex Helmet-isms of Craw‘s Bodies for Strontium 90), but you’re in the enviable position of not being a jaded fuck. Enjoy that while it lasts and drink deep from Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn and see what kind of head change it gives ya. At least starting here will make sure that your money goes to a good set of guys.
Supplement: I hate researching bands. Hate it. Why? Because I end up liking ’em. Not, you know, the music. Lord knows it’s not my job to listen to the music. C’mon, let’s be serious here. But, inevitably, I’ll be poking ’round a band’s page and find some solid souls shinning bright behind some tired tuneage. Then, I feel guilty wrapping a thousand word bow on a box of poop ’cause I giggled at a news post and I feel like me and my promo CD-R have a deeper connection. I’m, like, the George Bailey of critics. C’est la vie, fml, and all that nonsense. I guess what I’m saying is that I really like The Austerity Program as human beings. Couldn’t care less about the songs, though. Does that take out the sting? Doubt it. My therapist told me to share more. Alright, let’s hit the lights and switch off the downer engines.