In the early to mid-nineties, my listening preferences leaned heavily toward both ends of the West coast. There was the vibrant East Bay Punk scene that surrounded Gilman Street and helped launch countless punk bands, and there was the Riot Grrrl scene launching girl-powered punk out of Olympia.
And somehow, it all come from two people.
A duo comprised of Johnny Geek (Fleshies, Triclops!) on bass and Megan March (The Fall, Neverending Party), the pairing that is the Street Eaters is at times minimalist and at times a buzzing punk rock powerhouse, and Rusty Eyes and Hydrocarbons is an album that displays every extreme this duo has in their repertoire, from solid heavy-hitting rock to pop hooks that settle into your brain for long visits. It's fun and it's powerful. And in their minimalism, the duo has managed to strip their sound down to its core, and discovered that, like an odd illusion, the core is bigger than the whole piece ever was. Way bigger.
The minute this album starts playing, I'm blown away by just how, how simply great this album is. And how it gets better, track after track.
The record opens with "Heavy Into Nothing," a track that just lays it all out there. No's buzzing bass, March's booming beats, his aggressive vocals, her melodic voice, and just so many changeups from melodies to plodding to rhythms. It's all unbelievable to hear from a two-piece, and so full of hooks and melodies without ever trying. Records like this aren't recorded, they're created, and they only come along once in a great while. And despite its heavy political content, I just can't classify Rusty Eyes as an overly political record. This does nothing to demean its message though, instead it's just so good at never sacrificing a great sound for its message. The two are one and the same, and the political poppiness of Rusty Eyes does more to subliminally transmit a message to your brain than any blatant Anti-Flag rant ever could.
From "Heavy Into Nothing," it's on to a succession of tracks that are all perfect. Tracks like "Nation Builder," a rock and roll locomotive that builds up speed until it's a powerful juggernaut rolling through the station. And "Frigid Digits" a fuzzed-out garage rocker with the vocals almost dropped on as an ethereal afterthought. Song after song on this album, the band has achieved perfection. The interplay on "Livid Lizard" is absolutely magical, trouncing between a plodding sludgy riff and a fast-paced punk roll in a way that's both disconcerting and exciting. And "Through the Cracks," a simple melodic intro that turns into a buzzing monster of a song. It's almost a record I'd refuse to play for aspiring punk musicians to early on in their careers, out of fear that rather than being inspirational, it would prompt them to just walk away, because it's been done. All of it.
The chemistry between No and March is the momentum behind the success of their music. They roll back and forth, passing the torch both instrumentally and vocally. At times, No's big fuzzy guitars are pressed to the forefront, and sometimes it's March's big (and I mean big like a Texas donut big) booming drumbeats. Likewise, the vocal duties are a 50/50 split, bouncing between the pair with each taking the reins and lowered for the occasional harmonizing.
If I were to look back at all the bands that really blew me away, that got me excited and amazed as they elevated the stakes, I'd be grabbing bits and pieces of bands like Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill, Jesus Lizard and Jane's Addiction. Then, if I assembled those bits and pieces into something compiling everything I liked about them, I'd probably come up with something like the Street Eaters. This record is a game changer, but I don't know if anyone is ready to realize it yet.
This is one of those albums that's both a pleasure and a pain to review, because every time I've thrown it on (which has been quite often), I've lost track of trying to review, and just enjoyed it. And you will too. Rusty Eyes and Hydrocarbons is easily the best album I've heard so far this year.
Release date: July 12, 2011