In the early ’90s, with no warning, San Diego began spewing out an endless supply of high-octane punk bands, most of them following in the footsteps of either Rocket From the Crypt (sloppy, slightly retro garage-rock) or Drive Like Jehu (rhythmically complex prog-punk). From the start, aMINIATURE set its own agenda, with a rhythm section that provided the thump and wallop of traditional hardcore but a guitar sound built on weird tunings, harmonics and melodic dissonance. That’s not to say that Depth Five Rate Six is all noise, it’s just that the quartet continually pushes the envelope on how many different sounds, textures and rhythms can be assimilated into the formerly narrow confines of punk rock. Like vintage Dylan, guitarist/vocalist John Lee’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics rarely make sense on the printed page yet connect emotionally, often punctuated by Christian Hoffman’s scattershot drumbeats that pepper the repetitive, sing-song riffs. Songs like “Towner on the B-Side” and “Showdowned” follow few of the traditional rules of pop music; their anthemic choruses stick in your head anyway. Other bands (like Wire and Superchunk, in different ways) have explored similar territory, but few have succeeded in fusing the excitement and immediacy of hardcore with such adventurous sonic bedlam.
After a lineup shuffle, Murk Time Cruiser finds the band expanding on the ’94 album’s blueprint. New drummer Mark Trombino dominates nearly every track, providing pounding ferocity for emphasis and intricate fills for effect; his doubletracked off-kilter rhythms on “The Prizefighters” are nothing short of amazing, making it seem as if the tape is running backward! Lee continues to explore unusual guitar textures that eschew simple effects like feedback and distortion pedals for unusual fingerings and unexpected chord changes. But no matter how ambitious the music, aMINIATURE remains a punk-rock band at heart. If the ambition is to incite gleeful head-bobbing enthusiasm, the jaunty, exhilarating “He, the Bad Feeler,” “Long Live Soul Miner” and especially “Flux Is Flux” succeed admirably.