Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Ever since Suicide first irked New York Dolls fans at the Mercer Arts Center 30 years ago, the agit-synth-pop duo’s detestability has been essential to its lore. This is, after all, the group that authorized the release of a recording of a 1978 Brussels show that deteriorated into a riot and taunts its limited pool of listeners with cartoon-Situationist litanies such as “Che” and, on the remarkably vital new American Supreme, “Dachau, Disney, Disco.” (“Dachau/Dachau/Disney/Disney/Disco/Disco/Dachau/Dachau/Disney/Disney/Disco/Disco…,” goes the latter.) Suicide’s vox/kybd minimalism was a crucial influence on every postpunk synth act that wasn’t too chipper and chirpy (prag VEC, early Human League) and even on some that were (Depeche Mode, later Human League). Yet for all their irascibility, Martin Rev’s two-finger riffs and Alan Vega’s mantralike chants can have an oddly soothing effect. One of Suicide’s greatest achievements was 1980’s “Dream Baby Dream,” the highlight of Rev and Vega’s collaborations with fan/producer Ric Ocasek and a decidedly pop-pretty take on their frequently assaultive sound. And the new album, the twosome’s first in a decade, can be heard as a series of lullabies, albeit ones populated by dark thoughts about George W.’s America and punctuated by Vega’s trademark scream. The group actually has a synth now—originally Rev just played a broken Farfisa organ—so it can incorporate scratching effects into “Televised Executions” and “Wrong Decisions,” and even layer Vega’s rants over full-on throbbing techno in “Death Machine.” But Suicide’s essential strategy remains the same: Bleep, blurt, and repeat, until its ride through the black heart of “American Mean” becomes as lulling as the clackety-clack of the night train to nirvana. —Mark Jenkins