For all the stylistic presumptions that have arisen about the sound of the scene, some of the bands on Washington DC’s Dischord Records would sooner experiment than go along with the generic ‘core. In the case of the Holy Rollers, this proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. The trio’s first album, As Is, can’t be characterized so much by individual tracks as by the band’s enthusiasm for punk-rock variety. Guitarist Marc Lambiotte, bassist Joe Aronstamn and drummer Maria Jones display a remarkable range of musical knowledge that adequately supplements their limited musical abilities. Jones’ vocals on “Head On” recall the sort of stripped down, anti-art influence of New York’s no wave movement, stirred with a bit of early LA hardcore, while the straight-ahead punk stylings of “Dahlia” echo early TSOL or Bad Religion. “Freedom Asking” clicks and clatters in palpitating textures. The band’s not above a little acoustic country style balladeering in “Johnny Greed.” Like the poppier side of the Seattle bands, they play with dynamics; even when things ease down, high-energy intensity is never more than a few seconds away. Just when you think “Greed” is gonna wimp away like a Simon & Garfunkel oldie, it bursts into a screaming shriek of guitar fury. “Ode to Sabine County,” meanwhile, could be the political side of the Minutemen reincarnated, with its chanted vocals and alternately pulsing and racing guitars. (The Origami Sessions is a four-track LP preview.)
The more diverse Fabuley is hindered by some of the same weaknesses as on As Is, but the trio’s lack of polished musical ability ultimately comes off more charming than deadly. Experiments with vocal interplay on “What You Said” and “Skin Deep Guilt” (engaging songs which both hint at ’60s pop) and the bluesy intro to “Addiction” can’t disguise the fact that none of the three can sing worth a lick. Holy Rollers know how things should sound, if not how to actually make them sound that way. Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye makes a guest appearance on the powerful “Perfect Sleeper”; like “Cross the Line,” it decries the precarious financial situation of many who live in the District, or on the District’s streets. The jazzy, atmospheric spookiness of “Moment Before Impact” also makes for a memorable listen.
Dischord combined the vinyl-only As Is and Fabuley on one CD bearing the latter name in late 1991. The Rollers spent the next year and a half laying low and dealing with Jones’ departure (replaced by Ed Trask) and the addition of bassist C. Maynard Bopst, which allowed Aronstamn to move to guitar. The new lineup’s Holy Rollers suffers from the changes. The material and craftsmanship are strong, but the band seems to have narrowed its vision, opting to stick with tried and true DC rock variations while cutting back on the vocal intricacy and the thematic diversity of individual songs. Aronstamn is the primary lead singer, and his compositions have turned more personal and angry: “Set Up” is a blistering damnation of a former friend for some betrayal. “Gold,” a neat stream-of- consciousness musical discussion, introspectively considers personal identity, trust and insecurity; the disjointed “Killing Alley” again addresses life on the streets of DC. The disc has its quieter moments: “House of Fetish” builds into a crescendo not unlike those produced by Girls Against Boys.