Review Summary: A cyborg fusion of vivid digital motifs and punk malevolence
I find Six Finger Satellite’s current obscurity strange. After all, it’s not as if they were outright ignored in their time; signing to Sub Pop Records, featuring in an episode of Beavis and Butt-head and having a record produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem (whose label Death From Above gets its namesake from his touring set-up for SFS as their sound engineer) are all accomplishments of a decently successful band. But apart from the lasting life of “Parlour Games”, the track featured in Beavis and Butt-Head, whose number of streams on Spotify dwarfs their other work by miles, they’re largely forgotten. It’s especially strange considering the similarities they hold with other revered post-hardcore acts of the 90s. Severe Exposure
’s perverse sense of humour and eclecticism is characteristic of those acclaimed outfits that stuck out for breaking free from hardcore’s proclivity for overly earnest expression: yet it remains an unloved relic.
Moreover, it’s a real shame Severe Exposure
has been forgotten because its lurid fusion of post-hardcore, irreverent humour and synthesizers is singularly unique. Granted, it’s not that original to mix electronics and hardcore together, but SFS go above and beyond the standard format. Whereas most outfits struggle to prioritise one aesthetic over the other, coming off either as hardcore with synthetic tinges or particularly noisy synth-rock, SFS achieve a true melding; a cyborg fusion of vivid digital motifs and punk malevolence. Severe Exposure
is therefore a fitting title, hinting at the abrasive fuzz that radiates off these tracks; a boisterous take on punk with a synthetic sheen that simultaneously comes off unnatural and relatable.
Now, that may sound like a contradiction, but I think its testament to SFS’s skill that they manage to wield such an artificial sound yet still come off as very much grounded. Many of the tracks mix the raucous structure of punk with synthetic effects without sacrificing punk’s down-to-earth nature, keeping the electronics to a tastefully considered minimum. So, rather than a cacophony of overladen obnoxious bleeps-and-bloops, the synths act like another layer of filth, working in tandem with the angular guitars to create a double-pronged assault of static. The humour also goes a long way in making sure the band doesn’t get ahead of themselves. On “Cock Fight” J. Ryan’s enigmatic vocals expel a malevolent sense of glee, as he whispers “to the cock fight” with something approaching sexual ecstasy, just before the song erupts into frenzied chaos.
These vocal shenanigans are strewn all across Severe Exposure
; J. Ryan howls, croons and screams his way through these tracks with all the character one man can seemingly muster. It provides SFS with a certain something most hardcore bands are missing, that is, a vocalist with any actual personality. When he screams he is all the more ferocious for it because he isn’t just screaming all the time, varying his style greatly depending on circumstance. It’s a refreshing change for a genre that tends to rely on impact through bare-faced aggressive monotony. I guess it’s just that you can afford to hold back on the vocal fury when your band is talented enough to pull off so many different approaches, without sounding aimless.