Rob Crow is dipping his Pinback chocolate in Zach Hill's Hella peanut butter, and as these crossover-side-projects-containing-culty-stars fare, the Ladies' own-merit appeal falls into that moist pueblo between the Postal Service and Go Back Snowball, alongside Loose Fur-- which is a decent vantage point for sitting and wondering why Electronic stank so awfully. The great news is that the Ladies avoid "In the Fishtank" syndrome: While those hybrid experiments usually resulted in acts indulging each other's indulgent streaks to record geologically patient jam-bandy unsmooth jazz, guitarist Crow and drummer Hill tighten each other. Literally half of these tracks resemble traditional hummable songs, though they fitfully switch modes and are sequenced to bleed into the avant-something bits of subdued noise-punk, such as the Public Enemy nod "Black Metal in the Hour of Starbucks". (Wait, what is "subdued noise-punk" supposed to be? Mild chaos? Prog fusion? "Prusion"?) By now you've deducted that They Mean Us is hardly pop. Crow may have "O.C."-palatable pipes, but he chose the path less emo years ago, and Hill, um, he kind of can't be stopped. Your esteem for this release may well depend on your capacity to withstand Hill's virtuosity. If one were typing about this disc for The New Yorker or the Times, one couldn't be blamed for taking the sweeping time-capsule, pop-anthropology, Da Capo-anthology approach: What does it all mean that there exists in the marketplace a one-man rhythm section who practically solos non-stop? How can one fathom the old communal fantasy of "bandness" when the individual so dominates and self-isolates? Is a genius always going to be cast as a fascist underdog in a monoculture? Are we so benumbed by a multiplicity of entertainments that talent has to distinguish itself via relentless, intimidating explosiveness? How totally inappropriate is even a hint of a suicide bomber analogy? Have we cut away the fatty shanks of the bash-ba-donk, lollygagging Clinton-era drum style in favor of the all-skeleton, defender-Bush percussion model? Etc. Hill's skill can wear the listener down, but it's never repellent; he never seems like the sticks-and-skins equivalent of the post-Mariah vocal note-gasming that goes down during that Karaoke Simon show on Fox. The fatigue that Hill can cultivate is similar to what would happen if one stared too long at a chainsaw juggler, or watched that Police Academy sound-effects guy approximate the Peloponnesian War. There's something eerily casual about Hill's stunt barrage. I've just never heard tunes anchored by beats that sound like codeine-y elephant farts, or like a vintage Mercedes growing a goiter. Let not Rob Crow be forgotten: His guitar work here blends calculus-rock strumming with thick trad riffs. To namecheck, "So Much for the Fourth Wall" suggests the glacial cinematic whomp of Aereogramme, while "And Them" visits the Seattle sludge trough. The assassin confession "Non-Threatening" can't help but Kinsella itself, and much of the rest suggests a teenage, antic-but-expansive Sabbath without the plod. Consumer reports: Five tracks are around a minute long, but each prefers risk to mere competence. Besides, one track takes up over a third of the album's running time. (It's lazily titled, but for a mandatory psycho-freakout, "Mandatory Psycho-Freakout" is an honorable mandatory psycho-freakout.) Until the day that Xiu Xiu teams with Richard X, the Ladies' rampant precision will suffice. Read more on Last.fm.
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