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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Black Eyes
Dischord Records

Rating: 6/10 ?

October 1, 2004
The last review I wrote about D.C.'s Black Eyes for this website described images of a dark, sweaty, punk-rock dance party, deep in the bowels of some dingy venue in the small intestine of our nation's capital. Their new effort, Cough, is something of a departure from that scenario, although it is still clearly Black Eyes: percussive, tribal madness, arising in a blaze of hardcore fury. In the same way that Liars took a new path on their recent They Were Wrong So We Drowned, although not in quite as extreme a manner, Black Eyes have tread down a sonic path that is not quite as satisfying as their debut. Now, we can't go any further without acknowledging the fact that, unfortunately, the band is no more. They played their last show this past March at the Black Cat, and promptly called it quits. Too bad, but their final effort is a slightly askew and muddled effort, even if it's five times more creative than most records from the first half of 2004.

With Cough, the group has abandoned much of the dirty dance and disco rhythms of their eponymous debut for songs with a more skronked-out, No Wave-style jazz and tribal fusion, with several exceptions. Hugh McElroy's and Daniel Martin-McCormick's vocals still take the low road and high road, half flailing, death throe screams and half Ian MacKaye-style tenor grunts (MacKaye also produces the record, and Don Zientara engineers). The Black Eyes still manage to find semi-infectious grooves (more about this later), melding their clear post-punk and D.C. hardcore admiration with everything from Sonic Youth to Afro-Caribbean tunes to Crash Worship.

The record begins and ends on the most experimental notes. "Cough, Cough" sets the tone with a scratchy ambience, and "A Meditation" finishes things with slowed down droning and clangy percussion and whistling, which suddenly devolves into a trashy frenzy. In between, tempos vary from fast to a bit faster, but the band never quite settles into anything as driving as their previous efforts. Moments of dub bubble up in places, and the most prominent instrument on the new record is the saxophone, which played a smaller part on their last. There is probably a bit too much sax for some people's taste, and sometimes its role is questionable. There are several biblical and literary passages intertwined throughout some of the lyrics on the record, as well as an adaptation of a Klezmatics song. McElroy's and Martin-McCormick's vocals step over each other as they have in the past, creating a joyously cacophonous blend of pattern and interplay. There may not be much variation in the Black Eyes formula, but they certainly know how to maintain a musical theme over the course of a record. This isn't always a welcome attribute, but it works in their favor. Now back to that groove thing.

The main element lacking from Cough, that was present in spades on Black Eyes, is the groove. Without it, the type of music that they make tends to fall a part, just a little, at the edges, but enough to subvert the gut feeling. And that is the main fault of their sophomore and final (the ultimate slump!) record. Ideas abound but the static drum and trebled-out bass spine that held their previous work together is slightly hunched over. Too bad that won't have a chance to straighten it out.

Reviewed by Jonah Flicker
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.

See other reviews by Jonah Flicker



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