By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Washington, D.C.'s fertile music scene has developed such a reputation for high-quality output (by the likes of Unrest, Fugazi, Lungfish, and Trans Am, to name but a few) that every band from the city benefits from guilt by association. And no band seems to be quite as guilty as the All-Scars. Over the course of two full-length albums and a handful of singles, the group's core members -- Jerry Busher (Spinanes), Chuck Bettis (Metamatics), and Dug Birdzell (Beefeater, Fidelity Jones) -- have enlisted current and former members of Fugazi, The Make-Up, and other notable D.C.-area bands to create a spontaneous jungle of sound. Yet beyond that, all preconceived notions and bets are off. The success of this collective's presentation is measured by the stream-of-conscious melodies and the imagination of its performers, all of whom play with a randomness that almost seems designed, rather than by its membership's respective résumés. To its credit, the band has continued to upgrade beyond the predetermined musical limitations of its members' other musical affiliations.
The group's latest release, last year's Introduction to Humanity (on Dischord Records spin-off Slowdime), is a one-take live musical exploration that remarkably converges a mixmaster of modules -- noise-jazz, ambient-spazz, schizo-post-punk, or other such hyphenalia. The stylized way All-Scars turn their influences into common spirit for explosive improvisations is what makes this album so crisp. It took two years to secure the three recording sessions knitted throughout the 43-minute playing time, creating an unpredictable musical momentum that keeps the audience fully in check. The record kick-starts in a domineering fashion, with a clamor of trumpets, drums, and bass mixed with jagged bits of vocal aggression. The gibberish-filled shouting and howling sequences first seem like comic relief -- Screamin' Jay Hawkins-style -- but become as imperative as the rigorous trumpet's storyline they're partnered with in song number 3. (Songs are titled in numerical order to save everyone the trouble of remembering actual titles.)
The grandstanding instrumentation relaxes a quarter of the way through for a moment of soul action -- and then picks up where it left off. Incessant bass lines and percussive drumming lay the foundation for rising guitars that interlace the dense texture, attended by sporadic, reverb-soaked vocals. Riffing unfolds in a hypnotizing fit of odd, rhythm-heavy jams of a decidedly non-rock variety, and the moment a pattern begins developing, it's stopped short to move into another unrestricted territory. If there are near misses on this record, they are as interesting to uncover as the knockouts, though occasionally the bass lines go overboard on freakin' the funk. Because the All-Scars play live so infrequently, this should make their first major tour all the more interesting, and a definite must-see.
— Holly Jefferson
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