“In Black Eyes, we all had these ideas about what we wanted or thought should be happening musically. They were all very conflicting. The way we were communicating there [had] very little hope of reconciliation at all. By the time we got back from that tour, things had reached a breaking point. I remember playing parts that were purposely trying to antagonize other players in the band and not being able to hear, nor really wanting to hear, what was happening onstage on any given night.” - Daniel Martin-McCormick; Mi Ami interview in Skyscraper Magazine, Spring 2009.
By now, the general consensus on Black Eyes’ Cough is more or less that it’s a record that captures the sound of a band tearing itself apart. Fittingly so: Cough is a chaotic and polarizing listen that’s constantly rabid, even reckless. That I’ve seen numerous used copies of it isn’t particularly surprising, as even many of those who liked Black Eyes’ debut were largely alienated by the D.C. group’s serrated, horn-laced no wave finale. Still, as vocalist Hugh McElroy notes on “False Postive”: “Open up your fucking mind and you can fly.”
I think it’s a bit telling how often Black Eyes have been misguidedly referred to as Daniel Martin-McCormick’s hardcore punk band this year. Sure, Ital and Black Eyes have, err, no sound crossover whatsoever, but I was still thoroughly bummed out to see so many Ital and Mi Ami articles written by people who’d obviously never heard Black Eyes. It was like, now you give a shit? Eight years after the fuckin’ punkest album of the last decade came out?
I get it, though. Black Eyes existed from 2001-2004, a time and place in the past that’s still distant enough to not warrant reverential nostalgia beyond cult fandom. Still, it bugs me to see such vital, distinct, and flat-out amazing records being ignored or relegated to footnote status. Cough might not be as mind-bending now that I’ve heard it enough times, but its importance remains in how it still sounds immensely striking, like an audible document of interpersonal stress decimating the seams of a dangerously imaginative (or at least intuitive) five-piece. As Jeremiah Griffey points out in the article quoted above, Black Eyes “was an aptly-titled band name given all the reported infighting” — frankly, that Cough exists at all is perhaps astounding.
“Eternal Life” has all the focused vigor of a manifesto. Given its placement on Cough — second track, but first “song” — the emergence of McElroy’s shouting is like a declarative objection escaping from an unruly mob: “Who have eyes to see, let them see/ Who have ears to hear, let them hear.” The instrumentation boils over, and the song becomes a visceral, throat-grasping battle cry where Martin-McCormick often out-skronks the horns (both vocally and with his guitar), two drumkits clatter away, and somehow, it’s mostly just McElroy’s dangling basslines and poised vocal presence that root the song enough to keep it from falling apart. By the end, it’s a race to the finish. “And know temporary what’s meant by ETERNAL LIFE.”
No time to catch yr breath. Cough, Cough.