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Following four LPs on their Vancouver hometown indie label Mint, this formidable female drums-and-guitar duo moved to nearby major Nettwerk for their 2014 fifth, Do Not Engage. But with its indistinctive alt-rock direction and too-polished production, Do Not lacked the sharpness and stomp of its two blues-tinted garage-rock predecessors, 2011’s Unpersons and 2010’s We Kill Computers. Thankfully, not only does this sixth LP steer the ship back on course, it’s their most exhilarating, explosive album to date! The most noticeable change is the band’s more powerful and propulsive drive, bolstered by the increased intensity (and density) of singer Becky Black’s guitars. As viscous as volcanic ash, they’re so frothy and fulminating, they reminded me of France’s similarly thick-riffed Les Thugs.
Right out of the gate, the monstrous, macerating opener “So What” blasts like a Concorde jet engine, while its marching, militaristic follow-up “Yes, I Know” burbles like Old Faithful getting ready to erupt. On each, Black’s playing is so securely synchronized with her heavy-footed, skins-demolishing sidekick Maya Miller’s devastating drum thwack, it’s hard to believe a bass guitarist hasn’t been secretly snuck in. Likewise, the surf-licked “Teenage Crime,” seething “Los Angeles,” and soaring “Error” combine ferocious, forward-thrusting rhythms with revitalizing, fist-pumping choruses. Even sporadic slower-paced songs like “Sorrow” and “Skin Me,” both tightened by Miller’s tribal thump, teem with turbulence and tension.
Elsewhere, delectable, dreamy ditties like the atmospheric “Anyway” – which opens with a Joy Division “She’s Lost Control”-beckoning beat – and fuzzy, feedback-filled “Gold Eyes” blend a Best Coast/Beverly pretty-pop palette with a weightier, industrial-strength wallop. And though the band has dismissed their blues-rocking, first two LPs beginnings, the rollicking, Rolling Stones-meets-Janis Joplin “Is it So” is a nostalgic nod to that earlier, formative era, albeit with today’s tighter, more together attack. Lastly, Black’s cool, confident snarl (as well as the LP’s tongue-in-cheek title!) camouflages the group’s atypically downcast, drained, and detached-feeling lyrics, which Miller has described as “more personal to us than on any other record we’ve done.” If Unpersons was “another remorseless bombardment of the senses,” as I concluded in issue 69, then Positive is the same, with ten times the shelling. (cadencemusicgroup.com, thepackad.com)
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