Although 1992 brought more than enough repetitive post-hardcore records from brand-name indie labels Amphetamine Reptile and Touch and Go, Sub Pop still saw fit to sponsor this Providence-based cabal of smart boys in space suits. Emulating an amped-up and emotionally overwrought Joy Division on the four-track debut, the laddies — founders John MacLean (guitar) and Jeremiah Ryan (vocals), with drummer Richard Pelletier and a few other members coming and going — have obviously had access to a complete catalogue of Gang of Four and Mission of Burma records.
But that was only an introduction. A year later, the adjusted quintet took a giant step up the creative ladder with The Pigeon Is the Most Popular Bird, released on CD and on vinyl (as two 12-inch EPs). Even when the album prods at previously poked topsoil, it pecks with complexity and enthusiasm. The group’s cold bravado advances an acidic and adrenaline-fueled guitar ethos in songs that arrive nestled between odd, untitled instrumentals. It takes plenty of plays to find all the hooked nettles Six Finger Satellite has hidden in whirly energy flashes like “Laughing Larry” and “Neuro-Harmonic Conspiracy.” The band reeks of psychosis and superiority, but the terse presentation is impeccable. (Kurt Niemand, the album’s bassist, died in ’95, reportedly of an overdose.)
After collapsing behind a swirl of drug rumors, the band re-entered orbit with Machine Cuisine, a conceptual mini-album of eight songs on 10-inch vinyl. Temporarily restaffed as a scientific guitar-free trio, 6FS plays heartless Germanic proto-techno with amoral undertones. The pulsing flow is about as warm as Ian Curtis’ ashtray, but the construction is genuinely clever and dryly hilarious. Robotic vocals revisit Devo’s neurotic erotica, stoking the fires of computer desire on the opening “Love (via Machine)”; catchy electro-pops like “The Magic Bus” (an original) and “The Greek Arts” modulate G-funk style synth over tight Kraftwerk rhythms and intentionally trite lyrics. (The mail-order Machine Cuisine Companion cassette footnotes the platter with MX-80 Sound-inspired jams, a Suicide cover and much more Moog madness.)
Severe Exposure integrates the designs of the all-synth outing with the previous brash scissor rock, flashing a guitar band confident enough to delve heavily into disco beats and dramatic vocals. With the mood so established, plenty of panicky songs about animals, gaming and translocation are gathered in the album’s full-bodied silvery mercurial radiance. “Rabies (Baby’s Got The)” and “Simian Fever” are animal aggressive and messy, while sharing the synthetic digitone lusts of new wave.