Music News

Critic's Choice

Boredom, poverty, loneliness, suicide and heartbreak. Sounds cheerful, doesn't it? Actually, it long as FM Knives are singing about it. This Sacramento four-piece, playing Thursday, May 22, at the Climax Lounge, has mastered the punk-rock alchemy of turning depression into elation, ennui into energy. On "16 DOA," a love song to teen self-abuse, singer Jason Patrone celebrates having "ashtray arms" while guitarist Chris Woodhouse slices away at his strings with machete-sharp savagery. Patrone's voice is all squeaks and hiccups, punctuated by the occasional sneer -- a formula perfected decades ago by the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley. The Buzzcocks influence is splashed in pastel and Day-Glo all over Useless and Modern, the Knives' debut disc. The opening track, "I Live Alone," carves pop melodies out of king-sized (or is that Kinks-sized?) blocks of distortion, while "Hi-Fi" pulses along in a blissful catatonia that recalls the more progressive, even pretty side of the Buzzcocks' melancholy snarl. Sure, there are a few other points of reference -- Dickies, Undertones, Adicts -- but they're all trapped in the same new-wave purgatory between power pop and punk. With the rising popularity of circa-1979 bands like the Briefs and the Epoxies, you'd almost think that this sound was poised to be the next garage revival or, God forbid, ska fad. But when songs buzz with as much treble and catchiness and velocity as these do, being stuck in skinny-tie stasis doesn't sound so bad at all.
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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller