The four-band tag-team lineup is a full 360 degrees of the overtly fast and furious. This year Glassjaw occupies the headliner's slot, and will be taking no shorts from frenetic show openers Hot Water Music. Each band represents opposite ends of the cacophony half-pipe, like water for chocolate or a dirty bomb in the sole of your Nikes. There is a connection there (somewhere), and both bands seem to find beauty in the tempered brutality of sixth-generation punk rock. You know, the loud and proud crowd, forever looking down at the ground. Good gig to wear a protective cup, though preferably on the inside of your pants.
Most of us already know that Sparta is an absolutely amazing live spectacle. If you've been lucky enough to catch one of their performances, then you know where I'm going with this--they may just be one of the most amazing bands you'll ever see in your life. Truly aggressive catharsis, a saturated sheet of sonic dissonance and undiluted Big Muff/octave divider overkill--this is the signature Sparta sound. Rising from the scattered ashes of El Paso's At the Drive-In, the newer, more Afro-challenged group seriously knocked my socks off last year with the epic Wiretap Scars. Maybe you've seen them on MTV2, on the road opening up for Queens of the Stone Age or blowing up the spot on Conan. They're poised to elevate the electric guitar as a dangerous weapon of mass destruction.
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The sleeper here is the ethereal Northern California quartet Dredg. Now these guys are really onto something cool. Their album El Cielo is an aural cinematic equiv, complete with a creepy linear lyrical thread that exists as a musical case study for epilepsy, sleep hypnosis, panic attacks and temporary manic psychosis. Aesthetically picking up where New York's Skeleton Key once left off, the group's musical arrangements provide perfect headphone music for snowplow counterculture. Bandleader Gavin Hayes' vocals consistently present a disturbingly weird counterpoint to the occasional bits of "found" dialogue and extraneous sound. (The new disc was produced by Ron St. Germain, who produced the Buck Pets debut and Bad Brains' I Against I.) Anyway, I can't stop listening to this record. Each pass reveals a new layer of text, texture or noise that seemingly wasn't there the first time I heard it. It's the gift that keeps on giving.