Arab on Radar is hard to classify. The best I can do is to compare them to a musical hit and run on Sesame Street. Imagine Elmo walking down a street one evening with a bag full of groceries, while an 18 wheeler, going upwards of about 80 miles an hour, speeds up north on the road. The guitar is Elmo muffled scream, the final noise he makes before becoming one with the pavement, not so much a word, but more a squeal of horror and surprise. Let the rumbling bass be like the massive truck flying over Sesame’s many potholes, bouncing up and down in a carefree and almost scary fashion, the kind that will make you grab your children for fear for their young lives. Let the drums be the first blow, the one that sends the shockwaves through the bystanders and skyscrapers, the kind that sounds as bad as it feels, the hit that breaks the skin and leaves behind nothing but fuzz and bits of bone in its wake. And Singer, Eric Paul’s voice? That would be the murmuring of the gathering crowd, nervous, but excited, morbid and hysterical. You see, Arab on Radar is like nothing I have ever seen or heard, a ferocious mass of sound, dripping with sex and drugs and seared with distortion and feedback, shrouded in mystery, but out in the open, for anyone who wants it. Queen Hygiene II comes as fast as it goes, lasting a mere 21:00 or so minutes, but it leaves as lasting an impression as anything.
Arab on Radar is a neo No-wave band. Using the sounds of the 1970’s most rebellious genre as its muse and retaliating against a whole new batch of mainstream punk music. You see No-Wave began as a wholly serious, but extremely goofy retaliation towards the mainstreaminized punk sounds of the late 70’s and early 80’s New Wave genre. The lyrics may not have been a direct attack on skinny white ties and poofy hair, but the graphic, disgusting, snotty sex and violence references make it obvious enough that these guys are angry about something. What Arab on Radar has to be mad about is your guess, but based on their genius band name I’d probably say it has something to do with our country’s attitude towards war. But I guess the most obvious and nostalgic answer would be the explosion of newer “pop-punk” scenes in southern California. And if there’s one thing that Arab is NOT it’s a pop-punk band.
Eric Paul has a voice like a dying canary. Remember that fly character on the early eighties/nineties Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show? Play that guy’s voice in your head, but on top of a sort of Grind/Indie hybrid of incredibly annoying treble and pounding rhythms and you can probably get a good idea of the kind of fierceness Paul brings to the band. His lyrics are something else entirely. Songs are usually made up of a few quirky, extremely dirty phrases repeated over and over as if on some mission to pound the words into your head. “Her underwear as April showers and I’m pissing on her may flowers” and “Repunzal Repunzal let down your long pubic hair” are just some of the examples of this stupidity/brilliance. But as much as the songs take influence from sex they take about twice that much from substance abuse. Even from afar it’s obvious how much drugs and alchohol it took to make this record. Songs evolve sloppily from intro to outro, with detached guitar squeals and psychedelic bass lines. Each song seems to be glazed over with a fuzzy honey-like substance, making lyrics to hard to decipher and songs harder to listen to.
But for an album that puts so much into being sloppy the production on Queen Hygiene II is fantastic. Examples are hard to find, but perhaps the most obvious is the near perfect drumming on “Cop Song”. About half way through each bar the drumming is reversed for a bit and echoed under the main beat (it’s easier to catch when everything else drops out) giving the whole record a very trippy Pink Floyd-like progressive feel. This brings me to my favorite part of the record, Andrea Fisset’s fantastic drumming. While the guitars add so much more to the record, with their jagged edges and out of time riffage, the drumming on the record is what keeps it together. The melody (or lack there of) is what puts the album so over the edge, but the drumming is what blurs the line between far and too far. Andrea’s drumming is tight, heavy and slightly (hXc) danceable, with original flare and sexy power and prowess.
Over all this record is the modern rock guitar fan’s living, thriving nightmare, a pulsating mix of fruitless, treble attacks (hardly any chords) and bumping, grinding, stomach exploding bass, a No-Wave album for the nineties if I’ve ever heard it. But when listening keep in mind, Queen Hygiene II is not for an every day listen, it’s mood music at an extreme. Even after three or four listens the album begins to loose its shock value and become just an annoying, tumbling mass of bad quality punk music. For the first few listens this album is vile, flamboyant and heavy, but after a while it becomes limp, tired and snotty. The blues tempo indie jam, 99c Lipstick is one of the few songs I can actually see myself checking out in the future, but even that gets pretty bland when put before the annoying buzz of Human (Type 2). Arab come off as an extremely smart, but otherwise ignorant musical enema, but end up (on this CD at least) as a slightly pathetic shell of a band. There are moments here, and I’m fine with that, but heck, but maybe this type of music isn’t for me. 2.5/5