On first listen, Foulbrood—Two Inch Astronaut’s second LP—might sound like a long-lost Jawbox record. Or perhaps some Shudder to Think B-sides with Smart Went Crazy’s Chad Clark guesting on vocals. It’s so steeped in mid-’90s Dischord-era post-hardcore, you can’t help but think the members of the Colesville, Md., trio—all in their early 20s—were born in the wrong decade. But the longer you sit with the band’s stellar and searing record, the clearer it becomes that this isn’t a product of nostalgic fetishization of Dischord’s heyday; this is the next logical progression of that sound. With Foulbrood, Two Inch Astronaut looks back fondly at D.C.’s post-hardcore past, but boldly into its future, too.
Like Bad Brother, Two Inch Astronaut’s 2013 debut, Foulbrood is canvassed with angular riffs, heavy, gut-busting hooks, frenetic rhythms, and a playful loud-soft-loud dynamic. But the band’s maturation isn’t in the members’ skilled musicianship—though guitarist/vocalist Sam Rosenberg knows his way around a fretboard and he’s not afraid to showcase it—it’s in the songwriting, which skews in a more alt-pop direction than their previous effort.
The album’s catchy opener, the title track, is a fairly straightforward alt-rock rager that has more in common with Nirvana and early Foo Fighters than any Dischord bands, which were making far more intricate music at that time. Rosenberg’s melodic vocals morph into a emotive falsetto in the chorus as drummer Matt Gatwood slows down the tempo. This is perhaps the catchiest, most accessible song on the record, but the journey down Foulbrood’s rabbit hole of dissonant, math-rock vibes is a subtle one, with each track just a little weirder, more indulgent, and more experimental than the last.
That dynamic reaches its pinnacle mid-album with “Dead White Boy,” an epic, nearly eight-minute ballad about the culture of violence committed by “troubled” teens and the media coverage surrounding it. As Rosenberg told Vice earlier this month, “The song is about how fucked it is that if a white boy in America commits an unforgivable crime, there’s reasonable assurance that there will be an incredible amount of press around it, much of which will paint him as some kind of tragic troubled poet.” The song’s message is hard to misconstrue, with Rosenberg crooning in the chorus, almost sarcastically, “Told me to tell you to read what he wrote/And told me to tell you to relay a vote/Did you like it? Is it publishable?”
That’s about as political as the band gets on the record, but there’s no shortage of grim observations and angsty reflection. “Part of Your Scene” ruminates on the wasted time spent arguing about useless social dynamics (“I just wanna be in and around you/Now won’t you let me be a part of your scene”), while “Cigarettes, Boys, and Movies” is a similar kind of somber musing on the kinds of trivial things that mattered most in a more innocent time.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the members of Two Inch Astronaut were grizzled scene vets just now hitting their musical stride after years spent chasing and perfecting their sound. Which, of course, makes Foulbrood all the more impressive. In just over a year, the band’s weathered a lineup change—bassist Daniel Pouridas was replaced by Andy Chervenak—and still managed to carve out and master its own cohesive, distinct sound that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve while taking it in a bold new direction. Another band could spend years trying to do just that, and end up with a much dimmer spark.
Two Inch Astronaut plays the Dougout on Dec. 7.