The Ax, Our Queen of Dirt
The Ax make a lot more noise than you’d expect a two-piece band to make. On their first album, Our Queen of Dirt, they use a lot of overdubs to flesh out the sound. Their sound is different — it’s a combination of Unwound or Shellac, crossed with a Sonic Youth vibe. You wouldn’t ordinarily put Sonic Youth in with that sort of band (at least, not after EVOL), but these guys made the connection, and it’s an interesting sound.
Their best song here has that SY character to it. “Sea Urchins” is a slightly off-kilter rock song with a break that sounds like “Expressway to Yr. Skull.” The song has some math-y, sharp edges to it that give it a bit of the feel of Bob Bert-era SY, as well. They have a nice variety to their songs, too. “Out to the Wolves” sounds like less virtuosic math rock, with a weird rhythm below abrasive, menacing guitar riffs.
The band doesn’t use vocals the way most rock bands do. Some songs are almost completely instrumental, with just the occasional line, while “Who Wears the Crown” has nothing but these weirdly cheery harmonies above driving drums and guitar — it almost makes you want to laugh. It’s like a pop song boiled down to its essence, except that it’s all a little strained. And “Bargain in Hell” has these odd dual vocals, where they don’t seem to be listening to each other all the time. “Red Witch” sounds almost like garage-rock, except with occasional sections that shift and destabilize the song.
The Ax definitely has a unique sound; not many bands combine Sonic Youth style ideas with more abrasive punk sounds. But they don’t stick only to that sound, either — they incorporate a lot of different sorts of ideas and sounds. And considering that this is their first album, it’s even more impressive of an achievement. A fine start to a musical career.