Review Summary: Jazzcore black sheep show their true colors.
Los Angeles outfit Saccharine Trust were associated with the hardcore scene despite their unyielding oddities: similar to other bizarre hardcore acts such as Flipper and No Trend, they were stuck in the scene by virtue of their occasional fast tempos and the constant, steadfast independence that defined punk rock at the time. Thanks to their relation to Greg Ginn, the Black Flag guitarist and head of the pioneering SST Records, Saccharine earned an integral place in the SoCal hardcore scene in the early eighties, and most remarkably of all, their sound was rooted more in jazz than hardcore, with vocalist Jack Brewer spouting verse like a lost beat poet and guitarist Joe Baiza laying down free jazz solos as the rhythm section supports with offbeat grooves. And yet, the hardcore/jazz combination works almost perfectly in the hands of this band on '83's Surviving You, Always
The cover depicts a woman in recess, which Brewer later claimed was a woman who jumped off the Empire State Building. It certainly goes with the mood of Surviving You, Always
, which tends to reside in a gloomy, almost frightening atmosphere, constantly seething with emotion that was rarely so broad in the hardcore scene, at least until the mid-eighties. The beat is rarely fast enough to keep up with hardcore front-runners, but Saccharine makes up for this with their sheer talent. Many bands of this period were young, and made their presence known on speed and raw energy while not having any real musical experience, whereas Saccharine is content to amble along as long as a weaving bass line or frantic solo is accompanying the dirge. This makes it even more amazing that this band was able to hold their own amongst their inclusive contemporaries.
Admittedly, the formula ST has for their songs on Surviving You
does grow tedious (especially in the more lengthy numbers such as "Our Discovery" and "YHWH on Acid") but luckily this release is relatively short at under forty minutes and on most tracks they change things up reasonably fast. Despite the small lo-fi sound, you can hear the energy in many of these tracks, with "Peace Frog" being the real mover you could imagine them pulling out for the crowd to get into. It's fortunate that many of these songs are good enough in this regard, as they really put the dynamics of the eighties scene in perspective for a modern audience, possibly even more so than a more typical hardcore act.
Listening to Surviving You, Always
, it still remains uncoupled in its oddity and still draws wonder in the band's ability to make their presence known in a furious scene they seemingly had little place in. These factors along with the band's obvious eclecticism and musicianship make the album worth a listen, especially for those interested in atypical early hardcore that was not afraid to push the envelope to the fullest. Depending on your musical preference (hardcore, jazz or both), Surviving You
may be Saccharine Trust's best record and their crowning achievement.