Philadelphia’s Executive Slacks started out playing a searing combination of electronics, guitar/vocals and percussion. On the trio’s first EP, Matt Marello sings with hysterical urgency and unnerving calm while spewing white-hot guitar noise out over steady, pulsing Residents- like backing complete with found tape noises. The impact is gratingly industrial but also emotional — it isn’t the sheer assault that makes you uneasy, it’s the whole demented concoction.
You Can’t Hum When You’re Dead combines all four tracks from Executive Slacks with a subsequent three-song EP. The latter material, produced by ex-Killing Joke bassist Youth (an obvious influence), is more ominously bass-heavy and less scathing — though equally powerful, thanks to screamed vocals and disturbing effects.
Nausea continues in a similar style without any letup. The band and Youth refuse to temper their taste for unsettling din, and “In and Out” ranks with anything by Killing Joke or Chrome for sheer intensity. Elsewhere, Executive Slacks diversifies into other styles and moods, including electronics expert John Young’s deft use of hip- hop/dance rhythms, an acoustic guitar tapestry, pulsing metallic percolations and several terrific instrumentals.
The self-produced Fire and Ice is the band’s most accessible record, dominated by a crucial arrival: percussionist Bobbie Rae. His propulsive style adds a livelier, more human feel to the group’s cold, technological framework. While a version of Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll” is entertaining (if predictable), the more original “Wide Fields” is built around the hook from the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man.”
Soon afterward, Marello retired to pursue his art career. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a band called Fahrenheit 451 were establishing themselves with a somewhat similar, if smoother sound. Their sole release, a four-song EP, melds art-rock guitar, funky bass, Stranglers-like keyboard swells and dominant neo-Latin percussion; Athan Maroulis’ charismatic vocals (very Doors/Bauhaus-inspired) top off an interesting record. When Fahrenheit 451 crumbled in ’87, Maroulis joined up with Rae and Young, added a guitarist and proceeded as Executive Slacks, evolving into a strangely compelling merger of hard rock and techno-wave, with Maroulis’ melodramatics in pleasant contrast to the synthetic drum/keyboard textures, loud heavy metal guitar and Rae’s rhythmic pyrotechnics.