The A Frames, Black Forest

The A Frames, Black Forest

I’m nowhere near an authority on the noisier, dirtier end of the post-punk spectrum, I have to admit. I own no Gang of Four CDs, never much liked the Melvins, and couldn’t tell you which Jesus Lizard CDs I’ve actually listened (there were a few, back in college, but I have no clue which they were). Granted, this is probably not a good thing to cop to right at the start of a review of the latest A Frames album, Black Forest, but I feel it’s only fair to display my non-cred with the Amphetamine Reptile/Man’s Ruin/Touch & Go crowd (Arcwelder excepted, anyway) up front.

With that out of the way, now, let me say that I fucking love this album. The A Frames (Erin Sullivan on guitars and sung-spoken vocals, Lars Finberg on drums, and Min Yee on the gurgling, rumbling bass) have created an awe-inspiring paean to death, destruction, and the fall and detritus of civilizations with Black Forest; the title, by the way, apparently refers to the remains of burned-out trees after a nuclear holocaust wipes all of us off the planet. Who knew you could write a clap-along ditty about the end of all life? And yes, the song in question (“Black Forest II,” which is basically a reprise of the instrumental intro, “Black Forest I,” with lyrics) is damn catchy, as are a frightening number of the tracks here.

“Galena,” for one example, is all propulsive rock with a crashing, nearly tribal beat, but it floats a sing-song-y, almost poppy vocal over the top and throws in a dissonant pseudo-“Love Potion No. 9” riff for added effect. Songs like “Death Train” and “Flies” (which is a bizarre little Slint-ish meditation on the fate of Pompeii and other ruined civilizations) are practically grooving, complete with danceable rhythms just this side of The Raveonettes or The Rapture, while “Negative” utilizes call-and-response guitars to carve head-bobbing chunks of post-rock out of the air. On the louder-and-nastier side of things, “Experiment” is a careening mess of dangerous-sounding noise, the three “Black Forest” tracks are each a juggernaut of stomping, Barkmarket-esque trashcan beats and ominous bass, and “Age of Progress” takes that stomping sound and turns it into a militaristic march, edged with detuned low-end guitars.

“Eva Braun,” a slinky ode to Hitler’s mistress, plods along slowly and deliberately, cutting a fairly different figure from the “rock” part of the album, as do “Memoranda,” which is somehow cleaner and more mainstream-sounding, and “My Teacher,” which creeps quietly along below a bed of eerily flat vocals. The album’s highlight, though, is “U-Boat,” which cruises stealthily along like its namesake, Sullivan’s guitar sounding a screeching, dissonant distress call out above the waves while Sullivan himself describes in near-monotone as the ship sinks to the bottom and is crushed. Throughout the album, the bass rumbles and rolls beneath the surface, an out-of-control train picking up speed, while the guitar yelps and sparks, jutting out of the structure of the song like a compound fracture.

The best part is that the songs are mercifully short, something that seems to be a rarity in post-punk circles. None of the tracks here go on longer than four minutes, and the best are quick bursts that speak their piece and move on, no dawdling, in about two. This isn’t speed-metal, mind you — the A Frames still take their time, not mistaking speed for urgency or energy; they just don’t bother lingering by the wreckage. The whole thing overall makes me think of Steel Pole Bathtub, primarily because of the jagged guitars and the disturbing feel of the music, but it’d be unfair to just pigeonhole The A Frames and move on. Black Forest is its own unique kind of beast, and it’s utterly fascinating for that. Put it on at paint-peeling volume and have an end-of-the-world dance party, ’cause after all, we’re pretty much fucked anyway, right?

(Sub Pop Records -- 2514 Fourth Ave., Seattle, WA. 98121;; The A Frames --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, March 1st, 2005. Filed under Reviews.

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