Despite its notable flaws, it's smeared with the signs of a band that might strike pure gold in due time.
Two Inch Astronaut – Foulbrood
About a month ago, I prefaced my review of Little Big League’s Tropical Jinx with a brief discussion of the Northeast’s burgeoning DIY scene. It’s a conversation that bears repeating upon the release of Two Inch Astronaut’s sophomore album, Foulbrood. Exploding in Sound is releasing this record, which adds to the continuous stream of notable works from the smaller label scene. The album is certainly more angular and technical than many other bands in this sect of modern punk music could even hope to achieve, yet it still feels right at home with the northeastern DIY crowd. That said, it’s not always as compelling as albums like, say, labelmates Krill’s jagged freakout Lucky Leaves or Double Double Whammy queen Mitski’s booming, thunderous Bury Me at Make Out Creek. In fact, it can actually grow tedious to listen to the entirety of Foulbrood in one sitting; instead, the standout songs hold up incredibly strongly on their own, with the rest of the songs being simply respectable, only a little bit interesting.
Foulbrood‘s technical prowess often sounds engaging and fresh, but this same trait sometimes comes with a sacrifice of overall song quality. Contrasting “Part of Your Scene” with “Black Fridge Area” sheds light on this conflict pretty nicely. The former track’s fuzz-blown guitars alternate between suppressed high notes and gruff, static-screen power-chord murk at an impressive pace, and its vocals snarl and bark appropriately fiercely. This combination of elements creates one of the album’s best tracks, whereas the dry, defeated approach to dissonance and showiness on “Black Fridge Area” keeps things relatively flat until the last-minute. As this song’s end approaches, the guitars wail more loudly and with far more venom, but this effect drowns out the vocals, a musical layer that could elevate the song instead of hiding behind it. “1, 2, Talk” suffers a similar flaw, its splayed, eerie notes not quite supporting vocalist Sam Rosenberg as intensely as they could. This song too approaches a higher state as it nears its end, but even the brief sequence of dirty, fleshy guitar playing that comprises the outro doesn’t hold up as well as other moments on Foulbrood. The apex of Two Inch Astronaut faltering in their flashiness, though, is “Dead White Boy,” an eight minute stoner crawl that visits so many different ideas that it’s difficult to keep up with; even describing its sound and structure proves frustrating.
Enough with the derision, though: there’s also quite a lot to celebrate about Foulbrood. The album begins excitingly with the thick, gravelly cut of the title track’s guitars, and Rosenberg’s vocals here act flexibly enough to ensure a great jam. His guitar playing is also pretty all-over-the-place, but in this case, the craziness establishes a sticky groove. Likewise, the crunch and mobility of “Type Four” is shaky in just the right way, and the lacerating high notes of its chorus are particularly incisive. The album’s true peak, though, is “No Feelings,” a jagged, brooding punk anthem that thrills in its visceral fidgetiness. “You’ve got a tendency to move slow!” Rosenberg shouts during this song’s chorus, but this sentiment directly opposes the music, which is chock full of dynamic shifts, high-octane guitar riffing, and odd pacing. Were Foulbrood to consistently use this band’s technical skills in the same electrifying, corrosive way it does on “No Feelings”, Exploding in Sound might be able to lay claim to 2014’s best punk album.
Instead, that honor still belongs to the handful of labels that distributed and released Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory earlier this year, but Foulbrood is nevertheless an accomplishment that Exploding in Sound can use to elevate its status among other, better-known labels. Of course the record has notable flaws, but it’s also smeared with the signs of a band that might strike pure gold in due time. For every misplaced note, guitar overexertion, or underwhelming vocal take, there’s a searing riff, a brash romp, or gut-wrenching shout. It’s a balancing act that Two Inch Astronaut is still working to perfect, but for now, they’re well worth attending to if their highlights remain the focus.