If the Casualties were as innovative with their musicianship and lyrics as they are with their hairstyles, they would be a far greater band. Their new release, Die Hards, breaks very little in shape or form from past albums. It is the same consistently fast-tempo, three-chord, raspy-voiced punk rock with mostly predictable verses and chant-along choruses. Yet their hair (and I must mention their hair because by putting dozens of pictures of themselves on every album cover, the hair undoubtedly sells more records than the music) is the biggest and brightest I’ve seen.
A friend of mine recently saw the Casualties play in Los Angeles, and apparently their hair is just as flawless live as it is for album cover shoots. But perfection has its cost. Apparently the singer, Jorge, spent two hours alone before the show with hairspray and a blow dryer putting up his 18-inch pink spikes. Then after their set, he spent another hour putting in place the spikes that had wilted with sweat before coming to the after-hours party. If only he were willing to dedicate as much time and energy to writing lyrics. Alas, the majority of the songs remain generic litanies that simply celebrate being punks and call for the destruction of “the system,” (although they seem to have put only minimal thought into what exactly they don’t like about “the system,” much less how to dismantle it).
In all fairness, there is one song in Spanish, (“Mierda Mundial”) that is the most intelligently written Casualties song I’ve heard yet. Its targets—a corrupt mayor (presumably Giuliani), the wealthy class and religion—are not exactly original, though it’s pleasing to see the Casualties, who in the past have been anything but political, show some interest in the punk rock tradition of politically-minded rebellion. This tradition seems to be losing ground, in part due to bands who place fashion over content. Perhaps Jorge can express himself better in what I presume is his native tongue, and take the Casualties lyrically in a new direction on future albums.
The Locust, Flight of the Wounded Locust
This little EP is another exemplary piece of musicianship from a band that I can’t seem to get off my turntable. For anyone who hasn’t heard the Locust, they are a five-piece San Diego group that plays extremely fast hardcore that is so tight its cut off blood circulation. They have two guitars, drums and a bass, but what makes them marvelously unique is a keyboard synthesizer incorporated into the mix. This gives the Locust a very electronic feel, but not in a dancy, techno sort of way. Think of Radiohead on a mix of LSD and PCP. But unlike any form of digital hardcore, in which any bloke with a computer can program superfast drumbeats and precision starts and stops, the Locust play real instruments. These musicians playing together seem to feed off each other, making live shows more energetic, but the phenomenon adds authenticity to their recorded sessions as well.
Though the screeching dual vocals over the top of it all are indecipherable without a lyric sheet, the words seem strangely appropriate, creating a horror/science fiction tone to the almost surreal music. My favorite of the five songs (each under a minute) on the A-side is entitled: “Alas, Here Come the Hypochondriacs to Wait with You in the Lobby.” One interesting part of the song goes, “Biting the hand that feeds/ deemed an unhealthy meal when slipping on someone else’s elbow grease …” Very strange, yet strangely beautiful, right?
The B-side features one long song, “Flight of the Wounded Locust,” in which the band lets loose the synthesizer player for a bizarre yet comparatively incomplete-sounding instrumental. It sounds like video game music to me, which is not to say it’s bad. However, I far prefer the incendiary mix of all five musicians together.
Erase Errata, Other Animals
This is the first full-length album from this San Francisco all-female foursome. Exactly what type of music they play is difficult to categorize—and what does slapping on a genre label really tell you about a band anyway? I’ll say this: Erase Errata have a dark and almost morose feel. Mid-tempo drums and bass drive the music along, but this is no speed-plagued drag race to the checkered flag. They drive it lackadaisically, twisting and turning through the songs while the guitar acts more like a road sign, picking mostly individual high notes rather than chords. The vocals are at times soft and trail along with the music; at other times, they soar darkly above, holding out long notes, like a low-flying plane blocking out the sun.
In the midst of it all, however, is an ugly, noisy jalopy that really detracts from the dark and mysterious ride that Erase Errata tries to take you on, the trumpet played by the singer in instrumental interludes on a couple of songs. For one, it seems that the singer’s skill on the trumpet is not adequate to keep up, and it often sounds sloppy, flat and out of tune. The fact is, any trumpet, even one played expertly, doesn’t really mesh with this style of music. It’s too happy an instrument, blending beautifully into jazz, reggae or ska, but I have yet to hear a trumpet successfully integrated into punk rock—especially deliberately ominous, experimental punk rock like this. But I do give these women credit for trying to do something different than jumping on the sound-clone-infested bandwagon of Fat Wreck Chords. And really, the trumpet is only irritating because it takes away from the rest of the album, which is really quite good.