It's funny, but while The Jonx do generally come off as a "serious" band -- the flat-sounding talk-singing, the complex structures, the furious, almost jam-y feel to some of the songs -- one of my favorite things about 'em is their almost subversive playfulness. These three guys are smart, smart songwriters, the kind of smart where they like playing with words and preconceived notions, turning them on their heads and grinning at you while they're doing it.
The prime example here is "I'm Getting Really Good At Tetris," which is an uncertain, halfway-bitter meditation on long-distance relationships channeled through a pile of razor-sharp '90s post-punk; the lyrics are dark and confused, appropriately enough, but the band shifts to full-on satire midway through, adapting "The Rifleman's Creed" into the awesome "The Long-Distance Boyfriend's Creed": "I must talk longer than my enemy, who is trying to talk to me / I must yell at her before she yells at me."
It's utterly fucking brilliant, skewering both our cellphone-obsessed culture and, well, kind of the male mindset at the same time. It's the kind of song that makes you chuckle ruefully, admiring the sneaky cleverness of it while acknowledging that yeah, it's pretty much dead-on. The band also hits a high point with the lyrics to "Hyphen Machine," an evocative track that likens punctuation to herd animals bred out of some mindless character-generating automaton.
I'd honestly thought these guys were as tight as they could possibly get with their last album, No Turn Jonx Red, but here Herds steps in and makes me revise that opinion. This time out, the trio sound genuinely comfortable with one another, three guys who're making the music they absolutely, truly want to make, and fuck anybody who thinks they should do something different.
They're also to the point where they can branch out a little, which may explain why Herds is pretty much the band's most flat-out "rock" album to date. The Jonx still put their distinctive stamp on things, to be sure, but this feels to me like it's the first time the Jonxers have really intentionally worked to craft real-live rock songs. Not stupid rock songs, by any means, and rock songs that owe a big debt to the band's post-punk forebears, but still.
"Tetris," for one, with its churning but almost deadpan-sounding drive, comes off like Mission of Burma at times, as does the later "Connection." Then there's opener "The Past Is All You Get," which starts off all Minutemen busy-ness and agile bass but shifts towards the end into a classic rock bit that I'd swear is a direct Stones lift, although I can't peg exactly where it's from. Even the aforementioned "Hyphen Machine," a snarling, raw chunk of punkish, heavy, bassy, Drive Like Jehu-y rawk, tosses out some nicely melodic passages and vocal lines that wouldn't sound of out place coming from some proggy, melodic metal band.
Taken together, the three tracks signify somewhat of a change from the band's earlier sound, although there's no telling how solid a shift it'll turn out to be. After all, the same album includes "Diabetic Vet," with its slurring half-stumble, Jawbox-like dissonance, and Slint-y murk (and I have to say that I love how vocalist/drummer Danny Mee's voice cracks and strains, with Mee channeling the title character's bleak worldview like he's lived it himself), and all-instrumental album centerpiece "Highway At Night."
The latter is by far the longest song on here, comprised of just Stu Smith's meandering, beautiful-then-jagged guitar lines gliding along over the top of Danny Mee's steadily-building drums and Trey Lavigne's unwavering, insanely focused bass, the rhythm thundering along like a freight truck going full-tilt somewhere out in the middle of the desert on a dark, moonless night. You can practically hear the white lines of the highway skipping past beneath the tires. Eventually it all builds to a roaring colossus of rhythmic, hypnotic sound, churning and blazing and -- in spite of the length -- impossible to turn off. Put it on at night and just go, anywhere at all, and the world seems to melt away beneath the tires. How many bands out there can do that?
[The Jonx are playing their CD release party 4/9/10 at Rudyar'ds, along with Woozyhelmet, Muhammad Ali, & 500 Megatons of Boogie.]
The Ultra Siberian Pant Factory
This band must really hate writers. How else can you explain naming your band "The Ultra Siberian Pant Factory"? Length and depth of syllables aside, the inclusion of "Pant" and not "Pants," like it should be, is a mother-humper. Then, on top of it all, the band names their album Omniumgatherum. What the fuck is that? Do they realize how many times an album title is used in a typical review? Well, I can tell you in this review it'll only be once, and you just saw it.
Trying to define USPFx -- that's the acronym they use, although I hear they've since shortened the band name to just "The Pant Factory" -- is as difficult as divining how they chose their name. The band's sound is best described as a souped-up combination of Dream Theater and Every Time I Die; just think of the most insanely progressive bunch of metalcore guys you could ever hope to meet, and you'll be right there.
What makes this band so good is that they eschew the "look at me" masturbatory leanings of a typical progressive band. While the band members do play their asses off and have skills that are unparalleled, every note seems to fit the song in which it's played. Guitarist George Heathco is beyond phenomenal. While he does show a Steve Vai or Joe Satriani influence, he also mixes in the sounds of modern acts like math-metallers Dillinger Escape Plan. His backing members are no slouches, either. Both drummer Gus Alvarado and bassist Jack Gordon do a remarkable job in providing a solid foundation for the song while showcasing their own proficiency, as well.
The lone drawback is singer Benjamin Cunningham. I'm sure that he is a nice guy and calls his mother once a week, but his vocals are very off-putting. Most of the time he comes across like a bad Corey Taylor. His growls are far from menacing and about as intimidating as a Twilight fan club meeting, and unfortunately, his clean vocals are about as good. He doesn't seem to possess the ability to hit a nice high note -- whenever he does, it sounds like he's struggling. I don't mean to pick on Mr. Cunningham, but his performance detracts from what his bandmates are playing. On a couple of the tracks, his voice sounds a lot better, so maybe this CD was recorded over a period of time where he was able to progress.
All in all, USPFX has released a very interesting record; it's so well-played that you discover new things every time you hear it.
[The Ultra Siberian Pant Factory (aka The Pant Factory) is playing 4/23/10 at Fitzgerald's, along with Vehement Burn & Giant Battle Monster.]