Review Summary: Bizarre hardcore with great rhythmic style and dissonant chaos, but no sense of melody when needed.
Fred Armisen’s comedic career is hardly noteworthy, his only claim to fame being a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live. Otherwise, he has small, insignificant roles in popular comedies such as Anchorman and Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny. Oddly enough, it is not that he lacks the talent to match the comedic superstars in America. Instead, he runs an entire second career aside from comedy. Armisen plays drums, and his first project was Trenchmouth, a hardcore band from the late 80s Chicago scene. Currently, he writes for Pitchfork Media when he feels like it and keeps in touch with the music scene.
In his SNL acts, Armisen is known for never breaking character. Trenchmouth fits that mold well in that Vs. The Light of the Sun
has a sound that never falters. Furthermore, their sound is original and bizarre. Armisen makes the core of the sound with his spastic, powerful drumming. He hardly ever plays a simple rock beat, but instead uses drum rolls and tom-toms heavily. Still, he never plays anything technical and makes sure he is never the focus of the music. Armisen’s job is to have everything make sense. The guitar and bass provide the only form of melody, although their riffs never form anything memorable. Instead, they make a wave of chaos. Guitarist Chris de Zutter plays with a jarring, angular tone with either simple chords or riffs. At the most chaotic, he utilizes guitar feedback. Bassist Wayne Montana provides a bizarre undercurrent of rapid, moving bassline that provides no solid bottom to the sound. Finally, vocalist Damon Locks provides his strange voice on top. He doesn’t sing, but he doesn’t scream; rather, he talks in a cynical, maddening voice akin to Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. This sound capitulates in songs like “Here Comes the Automata” and “How I Became Invincible” with jarring rhythms and frenzied basslines.
Unfortunately, the band hardly does anything else exciting. When they come down in dynamic and intensity, the band tries to be more melodic, but it is boring and hardly memorable. This makes Vs. The Light of the Sun
an utterly one-dimensional album of a sound that is difficult to listen to already. “A Man Without Lungs” tries to provide variety to the album in a longer, more drawn out song with more of a dub influence than anything. The same problems that plagued the quieter sections of the other songs come back to haunt the band here. No memorable melodies. The only interesting aspects are Armisen’s atmospheric drumming about halfway through the song and Montana’s bassline, which gets repetitive anyway. Obviously, melody is not the focal point of the band or the music, but a little more thought would have helped the album immensely. Moreover, the production of the album does not help. It was released in 1995, but sounds more from the early 80s. Everything fights for attention and sleeker production could have aided this problem.
Vs. The Light of the Sun
is a difficult release. The sound is bizarre, chaotic, and jarring. Myself, I hated it on the first few listens. However, going into the album expecting to chaos, I was able to appreciate the rhythmic intricacy and complexity of the songs at their best. Still, a lack of variety and poor production plague the album. Songs like “Here Comes the Automata” and “The Effects of Radiation” are brilliant, but many are simply copies of that sound except less effective. There’s a reason Fred Armisen is a comedian now.