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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Transistor Transistor

eclectic reviews and opinions

Transistor Transistor (with Akimbo)

18 May 2005

The Middle East (Upstairs) (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Since November of 2004, I've had a hard time finding music angry enough to suit me. I've spent a lot of time listening to thorny records from the place where indie rock, hardcore punk, and heavy metal collide. This sub-genre sometimes offers the best of its parts: metal without Dungeons & Dragons fixations, gratuitous sexism, or long wanky guitar solos; hardcore with more varied tempo and dynamics, indie rock minus the slacker vibe (more aggressive and more tightly arranged). On the downside, the indie/metalcore bands favor raw-throated screaming over other vocal styles, which puts many listeners off completely and can be tiresome in large doses even if you can tolerate it. Compositions are sometimes disjointed riffs pasted together more than songs per se, and bands at the extreme edge of the form descend into sonic chaos. Furthermore many of the acts tend to sink into overly familiar watered-down Black Sabbath moves whenever they slow down.

Transistor Transistor's new album Erase All Name and Likeness — the New Hampshire band's first full-length — places them near the top of the heap. They recorded it with Kurt Ballou of Converge (themselves an excellent example of the form). Guitarist/main vocalist Nat Coghlan actually kinda sings in addition to screaming. Song titles like "Sinking Ship Full of Optimists" and "Transistor Transistor Vs. Everyone" even demonstrate a (dark) sense of humor — a rare commodity in heavy music. Best of all, they write songs as opposed to pasting riffs together. It's not bubblegum pop by any means, but there is a clear compositional logic.

The band has just returned from a three-month tour. They're tight, they play well. James Moller's drumming is particularly impressive — he sounds like he's using a double kick drum, but he's just very, very fast on a single kick. He joined the band only last year when Transistor Transistor endured a lineup change, but you'd never guess it. I still have the vague feeling that something is missing — in live performance they're not quite able to recreate the textures and nuances of their album. Part of the problem is the band's sheer volume — The Middle East upstairs isn't a very big room, and they're probably too loud for it. There's no way to get the vocals to cut through. I'm annoyed at the sound guy when he goes to the bar for a beer in the middle of the set, leaving guitarist Brad Wallace's mic off just as he starts to sing. But I'm also a little sympathetic; I understand that there's probably no way for him to get a good mix in that room.

Akimbo's sound (I arrived too late to hear Doom Rider or Disapperer) is very similar to Transistor Transistor: two guitars, bass, drums, and screams in a mix of thrash, metallic chugging, and breakdowns with long ringing notes and controlled feedback howls. The standout performer is the stage left guitarist — on one tune he changes chords on almost every eighth-note, not just moving up and down the neck, but often altering chord shapes — at mind-boggling speed. If anything, Akimbo are even tighter than Transistor Transistor. They've been at it several years longer, and they punctuate their barrage with razor-thin slices of silence — but their compositions are less songlike, moving from section to section in a way that seems arbitrary rather than cohesive.

This review originally appeared at Avoid Peril.

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