Fueled by diverse influences and smart enough to experiment with them, the explicitly political Trenchmouth resembled the better-known Fugazi in several ways but was, perhaps bravely, more esoteric. The Chicago quartet fused foxy rhythms (ska, Caribbean) with hardcore’s energy, dub’s mysterious intensity, funk’s ass-grabbing power and jazzy variations of all of the above. The sonic results are ambitious, as if the band habitually issued itself challenges and succeeded, more or less, in rising to meet them.
Trenchmouth’s calling card, Construction of New Action, established the group’s genre-blending style. The ska-core/metal grooves of “Ultraman” give way to the more-frenzied “¡Friction!,” in which Trenchmouth’s radical program is most clearly articulated. Already developing his own vocal style — inspired (in part) by Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye and Nation of Ulysses’ Ian Svenonius — Damon Locks snaps, “I do solemnly swear that I will fuel reaction / I make noise in the night so I can shake hands with revolution.” Latin rhythms (and vocals en espanol) fuel “Sordo Ciego”; guitarist Chris DeZutter suavely marries metallic chords with deft jazz riffs on “Bear in Mind.” Locks’ percussion (mostly congas) fuels drummer Fred Armisen and bassist Wayne Montana’s fluid, soulful foundations.
Maybe they were already there, but Inside the Future seems more apocalyptic (or at least futuristic) in its lyrical themes, and is matched by more focused aggression and deeper instrumental stealth. Alienated (?) by daily life, Locks explores “The Dawning of a New Sound System,” ponders “The Future Vs. Centrifugal Force” and envisions totalitarianism in “Hit Men Will Suffocate the City,” ironically deciding that “Mine’s not to understand the intricacies of the modern world / Just enjoy the luxury of the modern age where you can even eat the dishes.” Caught in the postmodern moment of “In the Event of a Struggle,” Locks declares, “it’s always present tense, it’s always now.” The rhythm section is especially powerful; Montana’s loping, taut bass riffs counter Armisen’s dynamic support. Inside the Future percolates urgently, especially “Sea of Serenity (Swing Version),” but doesn’t club the listener with dogma — Trenchmouth is like a good professor, making listeners work for their lessons. The closing instrumental, “Now I Have Tasted Life,” is the band’s first recorded foray into convincing dub.
Vs. the Light of the Sun steers Trenchmouth further towards infinity, with the frenzy of “Here Come the Automata,” the jagged rhythms of “How I Became Invincible,” the desperation of “The Effects of Radiation,” the new Trench-dub “A Man Without Lungs” and the insistent tumult of “Doing the Flammability.” DeZutter turns in his finest work here, from post-hardcore bombast to jazz-inspired inflection, and the band’s earnest, precise approach is richer and more intriguing than before.
The Italian reissue Volumes, Amplifiers, Equalizers combines the first two LPs, along with a track from the band’s second single and a cover of the Avengers’ “I Believe in Me.”
After the group disbanded in 1998, Lockks and Montana formed the Eternals, and DeZutter worked as a schoolteacher. Armisen went on to play drums for the Blue Man Group and then joined the cast of Saturday Night Live (no, really!). More Motion is a compilation.