Chromatics: Plaster Hounds
Punk rock thrives on the volatile, and the band Chromatics has proven one thing, volatility. Debuting on GSL as a quartet with Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz in 2003, they quickly disintegrated into a lone Adam Miller. While the rest of the original line-up left to form Shoplifting, Miller began work on new Chromatics material with Nat Sahlstrom playing bass and guitar. With the temporary addition of Ron Avila (Get Hustle, Antioch Arrow, Final Conflict), their sophomore album Plaster Hounds materialized. The fate and personnel of the band seems dangerously held together by threads, while their sound teeters on the brink of collapse.
Avila's long-acclaimed drumming dazzles with its loose improvisational hyperactive Can-inspired flairs. While Avila is the highlight of the album, he obviously misses the beat on a number of occasions, leaving one to wonder how and why the band finished the rest of the song. Avila's absence on the two terse drum machine anchored tracks makes his return powerful and invited, mixing the organic with the mechanical. Nat Sahlstrom's bass seems to be the most stable element on Plaster Hounds, with the fuzzed repetitions creating a melodic foundation for the explorations of Avila's percussion and Miller's reverb-soaked guitars and sneering stream of consciousness vocals. Reeking of a young Birthday Party-era Nick Cave, or the more melodic rantings of Suicide's Alan Vega, Miller's gothic punk vocal delivery is the substance, unlike the lyrics. Lines like "cracked glass in the eyes of the tepid surrogate mother who bears the cunning infidel" in the opening of "Surrogate," don't seem to mean anything. Plus, it takes a study of the lyric sheet to interpret any words beneath the slurs drenched in low fidelity effects. The most recognizable lyrics appear in the album's closer, a cover song from an obvious influence, "Program" by the Silver Apples. Plaster Hounds isn't pretty; it's an art damaged train wreck. The bleak mood and sloppy performances are alienating, and unappealing to any sort of mainstream audience. That dysfunctional mixture has created one excellent punk rock album for the Chromatics.