Part Pavement disciples, part Sonic Youth revisionists and part “math rock,” Washington DC’s brave Pitchblende peeled off an ambitious debut in the 22-track Kill Atom Smasher. Abstract experimental noise fragments — titled by length, e.g., “(1:05)” and “(:15)” — break up intense, dissonant songcraft. “Flax,” the pick of the litter, is a tumble of jagged propulsion and sly, percussive slinkiness; “Sawed Off City” proves the quartet’s knack for wonderfully off-kilter pop; and “Visceral Plane” can’t help but call Sonic Youth directly to mind. If much of Kill Atom Smasher treads equally familiar turf, it’s not just pretentious drivel. Guitarists Treiops Treyfid and A. Justin Chearno twist engaging madness from their instruments, and the record’s collage-like qualities make it a rollercoaster listen.
At just eighteen songs, Au Jus is more streamlined (eight tracks, however, are “ambient noise,” “silence” or spoken-word segues). If Kill Atom Smasher is Pitchblende’s undergraduate term paper, Au Jus is a masters’ thesis, featuring tighter grooves, a Devo-like strut and better overall songwriting. Relatively straightforward cuts like the snaky “Nine Volt” and the taut “Karoshi” are a nice foil to the expansive rhythmic complexity of “Cupcake Jones,” “Human Lie Detector,” “Short Term” and the band’s odd guitar tunings.
The nomenclatural alteration on the spine of Gygax! appears to be of no significance; the same foursome is responsible for the continued adventures of Pitchblende within. Mapping out a febrile, complex post-punk jazz that doesn’t take the self-willed freedom of expression simply as a cue for rampant noisemongery, the group’s thoughtful, angular, edgy, sometimes gripping dissertations on rock sound shift in and out of song structure with confident ease and dazzling rhythmic fluidity. The vocals (everyone but Chearno sings) are incidental, except as they distract the group from its instrumental mission. The lyrics, however are indicative and intriguing, especially “Crumbs of Affection” (“love sliced in a pie graph”), “Mercator Projection” (“the cursor stares back, passively blinks”), “Pertaining to the Champ” (a sad biography of Muhammad Ali) and the oblique “Kevorkian.”