The aughts drew a sharp line through the history of post-hardcore. On one side of that line, you have its past, as represented by stalwarts like Fugazi, Shellac, and Unwound1. On the other, you’ve got the current crop of nth-wave emo, screamo, and metalcore dregs2. Screaming right down the center of that divide was Washington, D.C.’s Frodus and their beloved swansong And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea.
Originally recorded in 1999, the album wasn’t released until 2001, when Tony Weinbender did them the solid of distributing it through his Fueled by Ramen label. In the two years between its completion and its release, At the Drive-in and Glassjaw had already unleashed Relationship of Command and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence respectively. AtDI would stake out the proggy, garrulous branch that some subsequent bands would follow, Glassjaw the convulsive and highly personal; both albums featured cleaner, more streamlined production values courtesy of Ross Robinson. While Frodus had been gradually developing their aesthetic since 1993, the start/stop, turn-on-a-dime dynamics they’d perfected over the years felt right at home alongside those other more widely celebrated records.
These violently jerky rhythms led some critics to classify the band under the (completely unnecessary) tag “spazz-core.” Plenty of songs on And We Washed still fit that mold, particularly “Year of the Hex,” with its chemical-burn vocals. But the album also contains moments of surprising fragility in the form of instrumentals “Belgian Congo” and the title track. “There Will Be No More Scum” opens with a repetitive guitar groove suggestive of classical minimalism. Perhaps the most marked departure, however, is “Hull Crush Depth,” an instrumental laden with electronic sequencing that betrays, perhaps, a hint of influence from Refused’s seminal The Shape of Punk to Come.
But Frodus’ final album was rooted not only in the sounds, but also in the anxieties of the turn of the century. From the cover, the band stares out at us through surgical masks with a cityscape behind them, recalling the bird flu pandemic that swept Hong Kong in 1999. Frodus had a career-long fixation on the ways in which the trappings of society were rapidly slipping beyond human scale. Although quick to exploit the internet and nascent file-sharing technology to promote And We Washed while it languished in inter-label limbo, there was a clear ambivalence about what this new interconnectedness would ultimately mean for us. On “The Awesome Machine,” singer Shelby Cinca delivers the surprisingly evenhanded admonishment, “The recurring threat of technology/ Can be used to confine populations/ It’s not a reason/ To reject it all/ Just the minds who abuse their knowledge.” Looking backwards from 2015, it’s easy to read into that a premonition of the NSA’s current multi-tentacled penetration into our personal lives and data. In other places, the band’s vision tips toward the apocalyptic. “There Will Be No More Scum” sums things up simply: “I awoke dead/ The sky filled with bombs.”
As fate would have it, And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea fell out of print once again when, as Cinca put it, Fueled by Ramen “sold their entire back catalog (including our record) without us knowing to a holding company,” an act that has severely limited its ability to be digitally distributed, seemingly in perpetuity. Thankfully, Lovitt Records has come to the rescue with a vinyl reissue, including updated liner notes and a bonus 7-inch of demos. Considering how quietly influential Frodus has been (they were a source of inspiration for Thrice, but don’t hold that against them), it’s good to see this record back in circulation, where it can hopefully serve as a entry-point for today’s pissed-off teens to connect back to the freaks and weirdos whose carefully laid musical groundwork has since been paved over and turned into the site of a Hot Topic.
1. I’m obviously being reductive here; post-hardcore has classically been defined more by what it isn’t than by what it is, and thus encompasses a broad variety of styles, moods, and genre hybridizations.
2. See footnote 1.