xbxrx

Polyvinyl

The epic drama, the endless torment, the goofy costumes—let’s face it, all those screamo bands might as well be writing tracks for an Andrew Lloyd Webber production. It doesn’t matter which demon is the inspiration—Rum Tum Tugger or the more rockist trio of woman, booze, and chemicals—it’s just a show. Maybe that’s why such expansive props go to xbxrx: Deep down, the batshit Oakland, Calif.–via–Mobile, Ala., band realizes this, but instead of selling too much passion (e.g., the Blood Brothers) or wallowing in the art of it all (e.g., one of those high-concept Rhode Island outfits), it simply does its rock ’n’ roll thing. Somewhere underneath the guitar dissonance and the blowtorch vocals is a garage band with the universal itch to cut loose. Sixth in Sixes, the group’s second full-length, definitely does, running through 18 songs in about 26 minutes. If the album were any longer, it would be a chore to digest, but as it stands, it’s a posthardcore palate-cleanser, with lots of little references to lots of loud ’n’ noisy history: the Locust, Anal Cunt, Sonic Youth, In Utero– era Nirvana, various Japanese noise addicts, a few early riot grrrls. Sometimes it all pops up in one track, such as in “Hope Until We Can’t,” which seemingly has everything but a Bo Diddley beat. Other times, synths interject (“Fabricated Progression,” “Euphoria”), or the mission is pure chaotic catharsis, as on “Breathing,” which sounds like a battered refugee from the SST Records heyday of the mid-’80s. You can forget about discerning any lyrics—except for maybe the “goddamn lie” part of “Deceiver’s Voice”—but Sixth is still surprisingly musical. Producer Weasel Walter, the longtime Chicago jazz-blaster who’s also xbxrx’s drummer, provides plenty of separation for each instrument. So yeah, you can hear, for example, the guitars, guitars, guitars, but you can also hear the drums and the bass thrashing away in unison, wandering apart for some counterpoint, and then coming back together. Sure, xbxrx has its pretensions—answering interview questions only as a collective, playing painfully short live sets—but Sixth in Sixes never veers from the most basic of rock ideas: People play songs to make other people freak out. Anything else—costumes, mythology, and so on—is just incidental. — Joe Warminsky