By: Eric G.
When you wear your influences on your sleeve as proudly as Atombombpocketknife does you had better deliver the goods or be prepared to die by faint praise. The band obviously has Sonic Youth, Blonde Redhead, Unwound, and Girls Against Boys prominently placed in its record collection, but it doesn’t venture far enough away from the groundwork lain by those bands to justify its close resemblance, despite an handful of sturdy songs.
For its second album Atombompocketknife furthers the chaotic yet controlled formula of discordant guitars, dark pop meanderings, and abrupt rhythms of its debut. Justin Sinkovich’s voice may sound strikingly similar to Thurston Moore’s, but he disguises it with enough distortion to throw you off track. The band is tight and the songs are energetic and abrasive, so what’s the problem? Well, the music straddles the fence of wanting to explode into a maelstrom of emotional turmoil but never does. There’s just no payoff.
Whereas bands like Unwound and Blonde Redhead build complex and off-kilter riffs into explosive bursts of energy and release, Atombombpocketknife paves the way for a jump to the next level but seems to get scared and back away. This is where the similarity to Girls Against Boys becomes more obvious. Girls Against Boys’ music is notorious for its machine-like riffage that only hints at an eruption of noise.
With Atombombpocketknife it’s not so much the music as it is the vocals. Sinkovich’s voice is always so calm and detached even when the music calls for more involvement. “The Unofficial Guide To Backstabbing” is the catchiest and most effective song on Alpha Sounds. Its staccato rhythms work well with Sinkovich’s bored vocal style because the abrupt changes make it at least sound like he’s interested in what he’s saying.
Alpha Sounds makes the word ‘experimental’ refer to a style of music instead of being an adjective for pushing the boundary. Even the band’s feedback sounds tired and re-hashed. I saw Atombombpocketknife last winter, and it was the same story live. The band’s lack of ferociousness was exacerbated by the fact that And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead blew them off the stage as the headliner that night. Maybe, Atombombpocketknife should stop listening to so many records by similar bands and see what happens.