2002: Black Eyes - Black Eyes

Dismissing Dischord Records when you approach adulthood is nearly as much a rite of passage as embracing Dischord in high school. Of course, neither reaction gives the actual music a fair shake. The scene’s insularity is double edged, compelling some to absolute loyalty and alienating the rest. And yet, in 2002, Black Eyes’ eponymous debut seemed wide-reaching and prescient, and that was before the staggering influence of their name became clear (Black? Check. Eyes? Mate.) To this day, I find myself telling fans of noise/punk/art Band X to look up Black Eyes, not contemptuously, oh no, but maybe knowingly. This impulse of mine isn’t limited to Black Eyes: I recently implied in an interview with Gang Gang Dance that they were influenced by Dischord's Q and Not U -- I have no idea why -- to which they responded that they'd never heard Q and Not U. This little exchange gave me an idea of how deeply Dischord had penetrated my consciousness. I wondered if my critical objectivity was damaged, my perspective hopelessly skewed from an adolescence of intense fandom. It seemed like a good time to revisit, at least.

Well, Black Eyes opener “Someone has his Finger Broken” sounds more or less like it always did: brutal, empowered, and self-aware 21st-century punk. Biting but catchy "woo—ooh—oohs," sung/chanted by singer/bassist Hugh McElroy, bookend its subterranean simmer. The ‘Eyes wisely wait to unleash banshee Daniel Martin-McCormick on to the world until the second track, “A Pack of Wolves.” A “WTF/Oh Shit” moment rolled into one ensues, as he wails like a manic eunuch being castrated on the spot, and Black Eyes are transformed from another self-serious DC band into some seriously outré shit. The opening of “Yes, I Confess” is the first of several passages on the record where the band lets some air into their sound, predicting their second and final record, Cough. I might add that their ritualistic, rhythmicentric, two-drum approach anticipated this decade’s infatuation with that naughty six-letter word (I completely agree with Jacob here: let’s stick to “neo-savage” or possibly “ third world chic”).

The years since I last listened to this record have afforded me a bit of perspective. For instance, the propulsive rhythm section, spazz-jazz guitar, and hysterical vocals sound like James Chance and the Contortions if they were sent to boot camp to wipe that art-kid sneer off their collective face. Similarly, several of the tracks have bass and drum turnarounds worthy of the best !!!, but are used to such different effect that it seems completely incidental. Free jazz, dub, neo-savage (that’s right) are all tangible, but the resulting synthesis is unmistakably DC punk. An austere and righteous zeal lies behind every shriek, squall, and skronk on Black Eyes.

One band they bore a more than a superficial resemblance to were The Blood Brothers. Both bands played post-hardcore v.2000 to young crowds, but their lyrical affinities are even more notable and possibly indicative of a larger epochal psychic temperament. Intonations of lurking psychosexual violence rest beside semi-opaque political and social protest. The moral allegories avoid Manichean simplicity chiefly through Daniel’s performative vocals; when he screams “10,000 million boys screaming for their sisters/ and their mothers… they all want to fuck their mothers,” he is in the throes of the lust and violent abandon that disturb him so. Occasionally schlocky (“A pack of wolves (werewolves!)”), its comicy sensationalism works in tandem with its dramatic seriousness to convey the confused and bitter outrage that punk has always been about, in a language punk had never quite used before.

Black Eyes were the kind of band that you wait for in community center basements week after week, and the lucky east-coaster who received the band's gospel will bear witness to how they were The Best Live Show Ever. Their album seems lightly produced, like they hit ‘record’ expecting that Thing They Had to translate untamed. It does, mostly. Some of their more awkward and confrontational aspects lie intact, and let's just say they have a negative influence on repeat listenability. On “Speaking in Tongues,” Daniel, well, speaks in tongues. He takes a brief vocal solo, sounding like (unintentionally, one must presume) Adam Horovitz testing the limits of obnoxiousness.

Often, records by short-lived punk bands are enjoyed in a nigh-voyeuristic manner: the more embarrassingly earnest, the more palpably outdated, the more fascinating. The moment here that speaks over any insider accounts of drums-in-the-audience chaos, or conversely over any retrospective fetishism, is “Deformative,” a short little ditty about loss of innocence via the Catholic priesthood built on a minimalistic three-note bass line. So timely as to be absolutely timeless, this capsule of screaming boys in basements is also is an eternal howl for our nation's psychic ills, and coming of age to inherit those ills. That sort of thing doesn’t really go out of style.

1. Someone Has His Fingers Broken
2. A Pack of Wolves
3. Yes, I Confess
4. On the Sacred Side
5. Nine
6. Speaking in Tongues
7. Deformative
8. King's Dominion
9. Day Turns Art
10. Letter to Raoul Peck

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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