Upon first encountering Institute’s first EP for Sacred Bones, Salt, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a recording from the 1980s—maybe, for instance, material that didn’t fit on Killed By Deathrock, Vol. 1, a Nuggets-like compilation of early- and mid-’80s post-punk, deathrock, and “dark punk” that the same label put out earlier this year. All the hallmarks of that vintage sound are there: the tinny snares, rattling like an ice cube in a small plastic box; bass that sounds like plucked bridge cables; guitars that crunch like scrap metal sliding into rush-hour traffic. It’s extremely close and far away all at once, evoking chilly basement practice spaces draped in moth-eaten moving blankets, and the atmosphere is deathly dry, as though a packet of silica powder had spilled across Joy Division‘s Unknown Pleasures, soaking up all the ambient reverb.
Institute are of the here and now, though; they hail from Austin, TX, and share members with Wiccans, Glue, Blotter, and Recide. The project began as a set of four-track sketches made by singer Moses Brown, and a full-band demo turned into Institute’s six-song, self-titled debut EP, released in February on British Columbia’s Deranged Records. The Giddy Boys 7″ followed, on Katorga Works. Both of those records laid out the basics of Institute’s sound in two and three-minute blasts, tarnished and ragged, with Brown’s pained voice—part wail, part sigh, vaguely reminiscent of Darby Crash’s wasted whine—as the cherry on the lopsided, fist-mashed cake.
The Salt EP builds upon that foundation in subtle ways. The production is just as tarnished, just as ragged, but the elements have snapped ever so slightly more into focus. The songwriting feels sharper, and the hooks sink deeper. “Salt” opens the record on a high point, setting a bassline that flashes back to “She’s Lost Control” over rolling, skipping, “tribal” drums straight out of Siouxsie‘s The Scream. Whatever else Brown might be croaking, in a voice so hoarse you want to give him hot lemon-and-honey water and tuck him into bed, “It don’t mean shit!” cuts clearly through the murk. “Nausea”, just a minute long, flies by in a blur of hardscrabble bass-and-guitar counterpoints, dissonant and sere. Gazing in the mirror, Brown offers a bleakly deadpan take on the divided self—”He looks like me, yet he mocks me/ We spend some time together, we spend our lives together/ I desire the experience of a moment alone”—that builds to an climax of dashed hopes (“To be free/ Is the worst prison!”) with every glance in the looking glass.
“Familiar Stranger” also carries an echo of Unknown Pleasures, with a rickety twang that might be a particularly Texan response to “Disorder”. Its structure is odd, a set of eight- and 16-bar modules snapped together like an Erector set. It builds without ever reaching a climax, and ends as though falling off a cliff—barreling ahead one moment, and gone the next. Brown’s multi-tracked voice sounds like it’s been filtered through a broken microphone; he sounds broken, which is part of what makes him such a compelling presence. On “Immorality”, he sounds like he’s about to come undone, swatting in the dark at images he’d rather hold at bay. He cites the painter Eric Fischl and gestures darkly at “a sewer to drain swollen needs of Christian men”. When it comes to the cathartic chorus (“Immorality’s neat!”), you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
It all comes to a head with “An Absence”, the closing song, and, at just over four minutes long, the record’s longest by a considerable margin. It begins with ringing open fifths over a relaxed, almost regal drumbeat, the guitars like sheets of liquid glass. Brown’s dejected voice is more sob than speech. The bass shifts for the chorus: a minor second, sweet discord; you want to curl up inside it, in a ball, like a cornered animal, shivering in time with the dissonance. We’re back to Siouxsie territory with this one—it’s a ragtag “Jigsaw Feeling”, maybe, run through Sonic Youth‘s pedals circa EVOL or Sister. It’s breathtaking, particularly in its climax, which feels like a bar of metal being wrenched from its fittings, and it goes to the heart of Institute’s obvious promise: for all their resemblance to deathrock and post-punk greats of yore, there’s nothing mannered or simulacral about them. They are as real as the lump in your throat and the salt under your nails, and their sting couldn’t be sweeter.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1sPMfU8