Review Summary: RIYL: dictatorial apocalypses, canine imagery, varying intensities of nutshotsThe Horror
is a testosterone-fueled pounding. There’s no pussyfooting around it; the first lyric is “two dogs fu
cking.” Everything about this record--the drums, the guitars, the sneering vocals--spits unbridled masculinity. On “Nature Boy,” orders to dance are barked with a drill sergeant’s capacity to emasculate: ”hips to the right and hips to the left.” That a move this potentially self-parodying is genuinely unsettling is testament to how utterly convincing the threat level is on The Horror
. It’s a record you put on to get abused.
At least that’s how I understand it. How else to justify the anarchic squall on “West World” or the plodding, S&M-tinged “Beg Like a Human”? But this atmosphere is intoxicating, even addictive, pop life refracted and distorted through the prism of violently disaffected counterculture. So, goth rock--humans become animals, animals become carcasses, and guitars squeal like pigs getting slaughtered by a bulldozer, all in militarized common time. Part of Sacred Bones’ impeccable collection of Brooklyn bands who express themselves through varying intensities of nutshots, Pop. 1280 assault like The Men, but they’re darker, provocatively employing horrific imagery and obscenities in the service of establishing themselves on the fringe of mainstream taste.
Here, they revel, almost perceptibly gleeful in their cyberpunk ruckus. The noise on this thing is infectious; ghastly bass and synth fuzz makes for impressively grimy grooves and the jagged-edge, treble-only guitar of Ivan Lip provides the atmosphere. Still, what really carry Pop. 1280 are a) Zach Ziemann’s wrecking-ball drumming, and b) versatile vocalist Chris Bug. Sliding between the roles of dictator, dungeon-master, and, briefly, pathos-tortured singer, Bug acts as ringleader to The Horror
’s dystopian circus. And to make a proper dystopia, Bug leans heavily on the human-dog image, pitting them as equals in an imagined world where biological order has gone to shit
and man must rely on its long-dormant animalistic instincts to survive. As far as artistic depictions of military-fronted doomsdays go, the concept is pretty ho-hum, apocalypse
, but as Bug does when he shouts instructions for doing the “Twist” on “Nature Boy,” he pulls off the potentially tacky with convincing swagger. The sincerity with which he delivers the couplet, “the thing about dogs is that they don’t know what they’re doin’/ I want you to beg like a human,” makes it difficult to swallow ironically, which is wonderful; Bug and Pop. 1280 are actively trying to force direct engagement with unsettling aspects of the subconscious instead of using such shock tactics as a cheap gimmick.
Chalk it up to 21st-century irony-exhaustion, but Pop. 1280’s apparent earnestness is the most appealing thing about them. Bug and his band play the fear card the classic way, as a 50s sci-fi flick whose main scare was showing rigidly ordered society turned onside itself. But while we currently look at that era of film with Mystery-Science-Theater’s taste for pastiche, Pop. 1280 own the aesthetic and make it real. In one of the myriad blog posts about Pop. 1280, Tiny Mix Tapes threw out the phrase “pop terrorism” to describe The Horror
. I’d like to riff on that a bit; that a punk release shocks isn’t enough to give it merit. By definition, that’s the point of “punk.” But when it’s done this sincerely, not presented as symptomatic of character but as the character itself, when it’s believable
, even when it’s radical, then it’s affective. And so The Horror
is sort of terrifying, yes, but it’s saying something worth hearing, something devoid of artifice, interested in exposing that which we repress--masculinity as animalism--as a means of discovering truth.