Strange Symmetry EP
Label: Suicide Squeeze
The big boom of Seattle sounds in the late ’80s and early ’90s grew out of the fact that Seattle was a gloomy, rainy town, tucked away up in the corner of the country that grew its own scene, as brand name bands often neglected touring there. Being a recent transplant to the Emerald City, I can see that some of that insularity still remains. Bands that are or were huge in the city limits aren’t necessarily huge contenders in other parts of the country; the Blood Brothers, who dissolved in 2007 after 10 years of playing jagged, angular punk, laced with high-pitched, screeching vocals are one example. This would explain why kids in Seattle are psyched about former members Jordan Blilie, Mark Gajadhar, Morgan Henderson and Devin Welch reforming as Past Lives and issuing a brand new EP, Strange Symmetry, on Suicide Squeeze.
Upon first listen, there’s not much that’s new here. We have machine-gunning drum beats and trebly guitars that are stock-in-trade of the post-punk genre that’s getting its second go-around. The release takes on some depth though, when one sizes it up next to previous Blood Brothers releases. Where those tunes sounded sometimes like the members racing to the end of a given song amid shrieks, there is a much more deliberate approach here. On the mid-tempo “Beyond Gone,” Past Lives starts out with creaking guitars and a marimba straight out of an ’80s Tom Waits song. Blilie sounds increasingly mature and shows range here, singing of post-millennial paranoia. Our rights and original thoughts have been taken away; “No broken glass, no violence / Just empty eyes and silence,” he laments yet doesn’t call to action, since there is “No curtain call / Oh…/ We’re already gone.” The song builds slowly, feeding a tension that should ultimately explode, but fizzles instead. Perhaps Past Lives doesn’t believe we deserve that explosion.
“Strange Symmetry” sees the boys going Devo on us with herky jerky chords, a post-disco stomp and Blilie squeaking out his best Mothersbaugh. “Skull Lender” is an insistent, full-speed rocker, with Gajadhar’s drums taking center-stage. Things get eerie again on “Reverse the Curse,” (probably not a Red Sox reference) opening with an unsettling electronic shimmer before guitars sting the listener with piercing, ascending chords sounding like a robotic & polemic-less Dead Kennedys. “Chrome Life” finishes things out in Killing Joke territory with more danceable drums and dread permeating the corners through moaning and groaning guitars. The song ends with Blilie asserting that “It’s just life / It’s only life” and the frenzied guitar contradicting this notion with every note.
Strange Symmetry is, in the end, an electric little EP that is more interesting musically than their Blood Brothers counterparts’ output in Jaguar Love, who have not strayed far from the original band’s velocity. If you don’t manage to get around to hearing this, I’m sure their first LP will be required listening in the coming new year.
by Chris Middleman