malleus&incus

Something Different

Posted in Punk by jawillisetc on July 23, 2010

I appreciate friendly dudes gently strumming acoustic guitars, I really do, but man, we’re sorta suffering a glut of the gentle/acoustic/ folk stuff here at malleus&incus. Nothing personal guys, but don’t you ever get tired of all that….prettiness? Frankly this is all just too damn pretty for me, I need some filth, some juvenile cynicism, some fucking Big Black.

Steve Albini, in addition to engineering some of my favorite albums (Surfer Rosa), writing in several ‘zines, and generally being an asshole, has fronted several bands. Although he was a member of both the adorably named Rapeman, and Shellac, which is still active, my favorite Steve Albini project by far is his work with his first band, Big Black.


Jordan, Minnesota // Atomizer //Big Black

Cables // Atomizer//Big Black

Big Black’s first album, Atomizer, is the ideal starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Albini’s abrasive style. Jordan, Minnesota starts off running with Albini’s scratchy, metallic guitar tones over propulsive, proto-industrial drum beats. Oh, and the lyrics. The lyrics are horrifying in the best way possible. Exemplary gems include “This is Jordan/ and we do what we like” referring to the small Midwestern town infamous for the allegations of sexual abuse leveled against its citizens, and “I can pull on a rope/I can kill a cow/well as any other fucker can” in the slaughterhouse inspired Cables. Albini’s goal with Big Black was to be as confrontational as possible, and he succeed with both deliberately hyper-offensive lyrics and harsh instrumentation.

The Model // The Model 12″//Big Black

Racer X // Racer X 12″//Big Black

Kerosene(live) // Nothing Short of Total War//Big Black

A few of my favorite non album tracks include Racer X, off of the Racer X 12 inch, The Model, off the He’s a Whore 7 inch, and a live version of Kerosene from 1986. Each track demonstrates the surprising versatility of the Big Black formula. A slight departure for the band, on The Model Albini does his best to mimic Kraftwerk’s iconic synths while generally easing up on the drums, allowing the harsh metallic tones to mingle in a way that isn’t possible on faster tracks. Racer X isn’t as interesting stylistically as The Model, but it was the first Big Black song I ever heard, so it has sentimental value. Also, it’s an ideal example of the absolutely perfect guttural growling bass that drew me into the band in the first place. Finally, the live version of Kerosene takes the best part of Atomizer, Kerosene, and stretches it out, adding interview samples and stretching that electric intro out even longer. The live recording adds another layer of grime and fuzz blends the sound into a terrifying morass that is really fun to listen to.


Precious Thing // Songs About Fucking//Big Black


L Dopa // Songs About Fucking//Big Black

The disappointingly inaccurately titled Songs About Fucking is Big Black’s final album, and while not a departure from the standard formula, it is absolutely worth listening to. L Dopa and Precious Thing together is as intense as four minutes of music can be. Basically they are more of the same Big Black maelstrom of noise, but better. The guitar seems even more metallic, the bass even lower, and Albini sounds even more unhinged on this album. Finally, a personal note: There is no better feeling than being a 10th grader and listening to Songs About Fucking after finishing your theology exam.

Big Black only made 2 albums during their five-year existence, but the influence both their music and their commitment to the DIY ethos of 1980s punk persists today. Big Black aren’t for everyone, but if you appreciate Albini’s outrage and sense of humor, and love some grimy metallic noise, then you’ll love it.

Bonus Round
If you like Big Black you may also enjoy:
The Jesus Lizard
Then Comes Dudley // Goat//The Jesus Lizard

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