The freshness test
Last Beat Records
Welcome to the modern world, rubberbullet version: a crashing, dissonant place where things either happen so fast that they're past before perceived or they grind along glacially, with no change discerned. Open would be a fitting soundtrack for an angry traffic jam or a boxing movie directed by Trent Reznor.
A band named after a (mostly) nonlethal crowd control device leads you to expect conflict, and open does not disappoint. It arrives full of noise and distortion, final proof that abstraction is king and noise is here to stay.
Perhaps noise isn't quite the right word:This is no found-sound smorgasbord, but rather musicians wringing their instruments as they push past the limitations of structure. Drummer Earl Harvin has never been so fast without flash or sounded as powerfully direct as he does here, often taking off from the deep latticework of Dan Kyrk's bass to buzz around a song, hugging the core one moment and flitting about the periphery the next; singer Beth Clardy puts her entire body behind a delivery so fierce that it takes awhile to realize that the words carry meaning beyond their vocalization.
Guitarists Richard Paul and Jonathan Mulkey can cut out large, distorted blocks of sound and hurl them from one end of a song to another, or they can strum softly, letting their chords billow against the unexpected quiet. Those are the endpoints of the rubberbullet spectrum; not surprisingly, the band likes it at the extremes. You might think the musicians bipolar, bouncing from the blunt chop of an axe to an eerie post-firefight quiet, but there's a suspicion that they're merely painting what they see.
After almost 50 years of rock music, it is virtually impossible to sound fresh anymore; a guitar has only so many chords. Originality, however, doesn't always equal quality; a band that features a cigar-box guitar and a yodeler may be original, but that doesn't mean it won't sound like shit.
The question: Can enthusiasm make up for a lack of originality? In Black Light's case, it can. The group's energy comes across on record, a rare feat for any band. It's true that Black Light isn't doing anything new, but the band plays the hell out of its Pixies-Replacements-style songs. Whether you're humming along because the songs are good or because they remind you of something else is irrelevant: You're still humming along.
Computer-geek bonus: This disc is an Enhanced CD, which means if you play this in a computer instead of a stereo, you get a little visual with your audio.
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