Meditations on “Math”, Pt.IV: D-E-F-F-F
• Drive Like Jehu
Apologies for the quality of sound and image, but I had to post this one, being the first Jehu I’d ever heard. I can’t say I remember exactly what my first impressions of it were, though I do recall being slightly baffled at how irregular it felt for what otherwise seemed total punk rock. At this point I had already heard a fair share “mathy” bands, but something about Jehu stuck out, perhaps because nobody I knew really knew anything about them (at least in college, this changed soon after). They also predated by nearly a decade most of the bands that originally exemplified off-kilter rock in my mind. Add the fact that they seemed like skatepunks and hailed from San Diego while their stylistic peers arose mainly in the Midwest or Northwest made them even more of an oddity.
“If It Kills You”
Yeah, yeah, these songs are both from the self-titled record. That’s less a reflection of bias than of the fact that these guys existed when video equipment was still quite bulky and not punk show-friendly. Yank Crime is also terrific, particularly the longer songs “Luau” and “Sinews”. Anyway, “If It Kills You” is structurally interesting as it toys with traditional “pop” form. Note the shift at the 4:40 mark (on the record it’s right at 3:55) into a bridge which then carries the listener back towards a modified chorus then to the discordant outro. I just think that’s pretty cool. This was a great band that none of the members’ later projects ever matched (and let’s not discuss most of the records drummer Mark Trombino produced).
“The Cost of Profit”
As guitarist Mike Law mentions in the beginning of the above video, Eulcid hailed from the Merrimack Valley (just NNW of Boston), the same area from which Cave In hailed. I heard passing reference to them sometime in the early ’00s—likely after they had disbanded—and never saw them live. Their debut, The Wind Blew All the Fires Out, was released in 2002 and is just start-to-finish spectacular. Unfortunately, I can’t find any video of anything from that stunning record. Of the two videos I could find, “The Cost of Profit” is perhaps the strongest material on their follow-up, Hope: And Songs to Sing. Arguably less interesting an album (IMHO), it wasn’t released until a couple years after they ceased to exist.
“No Vocals #3”
Ha! This one, also off Hope:…, does have vocals, though. Just not in this live performance, I guess. These guys, probably for obvious reasons, were compared to Fugazi (and, sorta by extension, that contemporary DC scene) even though they are a much tighter band. I’ve found them akin to Canadians North of America. The lighter, semi-crunchy distortion and affected vocals probably contributed to their anomalous vibe in a period dominated by screamo and metalcore bands (particular in the Northeast Corridor). Heavily recommend finding The Wind Blew All the Fires Out for its ability to shift vectors mid-song without losing momentum or feeling too “left-field-y”.
“Cut Self Not”
I was ecstatic to actually find video (here, the opening track off The View from this Tower) of these three tremendously talented musicians from DC. Watch guitarist Devin Ocampo’s left hand and when the video’s over pick your lower jaw off the floor so it doesn’t get all dirty (Your floor is filthy, you should clean that up). Both Ocampo and drummer Chad Molter now play in the band Medications, an outfit that’s not nearly as interesting, unfortunately. Faraquet is so clearly a jazz band without at all being a jazz band. That’s verging on “Afro-pop” style guitar work: the lack of heavy distortion, the arpeggiated picking style, the weird dance he’s doing. It all works somehow. I can almost barely play this song on guitar; I have no idea how he does that and sings at the same time.
“Study in Movement”
This one’s off their split with the band Arkaso and completely lives up to its title. It’s a bit infuriating how deceptive these guys are, how they make dancing lines seem so simple and easy when they’re anything but. Fuck it, I don’t even know how to talk about what they’re doing because it’s a little too advanced for my Neanderthal-level skills. Apparently they’re sort of back together after a few years off, both of these performances are post-2007 and they had broken up in 2001.
Another band I can’t believe I found live footage of, Fiesel hailed from Worcester, MA, though I had never heard of them when I still lived in the area. Tremendously difficult band to find info on, likely due to extreme obscurity. A former girlfriend of mine happened to see them when they passed through her college and she later passed their record, The Ruins of This Life, on to me. For whatever reason I didn’t listen to it much until a few years ago at which point I found out a few friends of mine, who had grown up in Vermont, also loved these guys. Small, bizarre world. Fiesel probably would have slotted seamlessly into that ’90s Louisville scene that spawned Slint and Rodan, among others.
“The Earth Isn’t Humming”
Last, but not least, we have another DC area band known as much for their socio-economic critique as for the insane style of punk rock they played. I didn’t know of these guys until about four years ago when a then-bandmate, shocked that I didn’t know them, felt it his duty to convert me. It didn’t take much convincing.
Yes, that’s Liam Wilson of Dillinger Escape Plan on bass in the above video. Frodus went through a number of bassists in their unfortunately short life (they’ve reassembled and I think there are plans to release new material if they haven’t already). Also notable in the above is drummer Jason Hamacher’s bizarro drum setup. Well, he knows how to use it and, really, that’s all that matters.
Here are a couple more sweet-ass videos of songs from And We Washed…, since I like that record best. I don’t feel like writing anymore. Just soak it in.
“There Will Be No More Scum”
“The Awesome Machine”