BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
The job of music critic can be, at times, a depressing gig. For every good or even great record that graces the mail carrier’s bag or my inbox, twenty range from just ok to mediocre to downright painful. This is a hazard of my chosen vocation.
A break from the ordinary came to me in the form of Lawrence, Kansas’ Black on Black and their stellar second ep Let’s Get Cynical. Cynical broke the cloud of monotony that hung over my office desk with a hard-hitting, rockin’ breath of super-heated air, a volcano venting itself through my computer.
Cynical comes on like a full force punch to the throat; an aggressive mix of Nirvana, Guided By Voices, Archers of Loaf inspired lyric work, hardcore punk and uncompromising sincerity. They are not leaning on re-hashed Misfits riffs to grab the punk vote, banjos or glockenspiel for the hipster contingent or dance grooves for the ass shakers. Cynical is an unabashed, no bullshit record; upon pushing play , what the listener gets is an honest, powerful approach to rock stripped entirely of pretentiousness and laid bare for the world to accept or to thumb their noses at. If music fans were smart, they would pay attention. I’ll go one step further: Black on Black is perhaps the best unsigned band I’ve heard in the last fifteen years.
Cynical blasts off with “A Black Geometry,” a fuzz guitar explosion that fans of bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Rites of Spring or even Sonic Youth will freak over. Its mid-song tempo change keeps you off balance but that works perfectly here.
“Ripped” sounds a bit like Pearl Jam’s “Spin the Black Circle” from Vitalogy. Whereas Eddie Vedder was trying, pretty much in vain, for the speed and impression of hardcore, Black on Black achieve it without it sounding anything other than natural, a way of life.
Guitarist/vocalist Wade Kelly, bassist Aaron Riffel and drummer John Benda are champions of the art of showing your influences without them eating the sound alive. They’ve taken everything they love and hate about music and put into songs without sounding too derisive or gimmicky. This band knows who they are and what music they want to make, there is no personality crisis or sophomore slump.
“The Coast is Closed” is the gem of Cynical. While it opens with a building tension and the lyric “Put your shit in the band/Say your goodbyes” and Wade Kelly’s voice vaguely reminiscent of The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow, this band is so much more than some hardcore kids showing their emotions. Cynical is a work of off-kilter art: it rubs up against emo more on the Jawbreaker side than Dashboard Confessional. It has the aggression of Minor Threat, OFF!, Black Flag and Husker Du while always showing their soul in the melody and lyrics. While most of the songs fall within the punk acceptable 3 minutes or less, the ep’s closer “Dig Your Own Grave” is where he band stretches its legs, making it their opus at a whopping 4 minutes and 8 seconds.
Where most bands of late spend their timebuilding an image, getting on the radio and getting famous more than crafting great, memorable songs that move people in some way, Black on Black don’t seem to care about fame and fortune.. As Kelly told me, “The best thing about making rock n roll is making music that lets you sleep at night.” Well, people judging by Let’s Get Cynical Black on Black should be sleeping like babies.
DOWNLOAD: Key tracks are “A Black Geometry” and “The Coast is Closed,” but just grab the whole damned EP. It has no bad songs and it’s free at http://blackonblack1.bandcamp.com/ or www.facebook.com/weareblackonblack