Balaclavas: Snake People
You hear a lot about things that are goth or gothic, especially gothy
Published: December 7, 2011
You tend to hear a lot about things that are goth or gothic or, most especially, gothy these days without a whole heck of a lot of explanation of what that actually is. You—in this case, “you” being a listener up on culture produced by the twentysomething/internet generation creatives—might also hear about things goth in terms of resurgence or trend, or in terms of a genre of convenience if not so much meaning, like “witch house.” And this is one of those special departments where our de facto genre-ing runs up against several decades of cumulative history of things goth, some of it powerfully retro—as in your average club goth night at Grand Central or Orpheus—and some of it innovating away more on its own terms. This would include bands like, say, ADULT., Chromatics, or Indian Jewelry, referents that rather awkwardly come to mind listening to Houston’s Balaclavas.
Or maybe that’s all just a disclaimer or qualifier before launching into how good this band’s sophomore record is: There’s a lack of self-awareness here that places it within the continuum of brilliant outsiders and not the latter-day gothy bubble, an exciting all-in sort of synthesis from a band obviously sweating the details. Opener “Legs Control” is oh so satisfying, its jagged-edge guitar jangle not so much shredding as crunching up notes like Christmas ornaments, while cut up with guttural synth aftershocks in a way suggesting sawtooth waves as actual rusty saw blades. If there’s much of a template to Balaclavas’ sound, a rule book, it’s governed by a kind of molten dubby postpunk—cold vocals delayed and/or reverbed to deep space, bass guitar as hypnotic drug, rhythms you might slow-motion herky-jerk to. It’s that guitar that so often makes the stew really a winner, bolts of it overdriven to acid. Synths too, of course: The title track, all 10 minutes of it, takes them as its centerpiece, harsh but not quite noisy blades of raw synthesizer feeling like out-of-control sawmill blades hurling around deep underwater, moving along on the back of not much more than a skeletal beat. It’s a record that will probably never seem comfortable or normal or unsurprising, which is enough to keep it safely outside the indie music world’s movements of the moment.
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