Substandard Records/new Red Archives
By: Eric Greenwood
Just as I finish telling somebody that playing hardcore in 2002 is not unlike flogging a long-dead horse, here comes This Computer Kills to serve up a big plate of crow for me to eat. Sadly this Reno, Nevada trio announced its breakup only one month after the release of its debut full-length (which was just last month). What a shame. This is easily the best hardcore record I've heard in years.
I hate it when age is brought up in terms of a band's talent, but it truly is unbelievable that these guys were still in high school, writing music this accomplished. This Computer Kills plays hardcore, yes, but not your typical, run of the mill, power chord, numbskull pap. The band employs tools you've certainly heard before: razor sharp guitars, extremely busy, high-end, melodic bass lines, and shrieking, half-sung/half-screamed vocals, but it presents it all in a reanimated and totally refreshing way.
The music is desperate and frantic. The vocals are probably the band's best asset. Screaming can either be an instant turn off or the defining aspect of a band's sound. The latter is most definitely the case here. The guitarist and bassist trade off vocals, but the wellspring from which these guys draw their shrill inflections is astonishing. They seem to be able to scream with power and longevity without any signs of tiring. What's even more impressive is the way they turn their screams into half-sung notes, so that you're not just ambushed by a bunch of unmelodic vocal noise. It's tuneful and frightening.
The bass player seems to lead each song with muscular fretwork that will cause any bassist to wonder how he can possibly play like that and sing at the same time. Don't misconstrue- he's not playing a bunch of extraneous notes just to show off and sound ridiculous like Les Claypool of Primus- the bass lines are tight and smart, driving each track into frenetic layers of spastic yet melodic hardcore. The melodies are not peppy, though. Weezer, this band ain't, and, thank God for that. There are more than enough copycat Weezer bands to sate the country's teen angst audience for years.
The only sign of the band's age is inherent to the lyrics, which tend to lean on the dramatic side, but the delivery blows away any youthful transgressions. "Fade Away" embraces the spirit of Moss Icon, Black Flag, The Minutemen, and Joy Division, musically. Explosive and aggressive changes are born out of quirky guitar/bass interplay. The bass and drums are mixed higher than the guitar, which might drive away many hardcore fans, who yearn for nothing but pick slides and power chords, but the discerning listener will appreciate the break from tradition. With the bass player sustaining the structure of the songs, the guitarist can experiment, which sounds very strange in such a tense context, but it works.
"Paradigm Anomie" is the best song on the record. I have repeated it so many times I can't even remember what it was like to hear it for the first time, and I'm still not sick of it. An insanely catchy bass line thrashes out the introduction, and the vocals are perfectly overlain. The chorus is so good. After a few shrieks the singer hits this sustained note, using his real voice, and it's just so fucking cool. At two minutes and forty seconds, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better punk song that is this succinct and perfect. Even the lyrics are mysteriously intriguing: "Passion is a virtue long misplaced by time, pave the streets with microchips and random access souls/streetlights scream unknowingly, we need more power/I’ve got a stick shift in a makeshift… Paradigm: Anomie/Try to tear it down, let it go, tear it down…it's all right."
"Soapbox Kids" continues the band's incorporation of unlikely influences into its unique hardcore sound. Arty, jangly guitar work reminiscent of Pere Ubu and The Police (seriously) sounds crazy up against bratty, screamo vocals. The band's ear for melody transforms the song into a dark sing-along, if you can imagine such a thing. Even a Cure influence wedges its way into the mix on the terrifying "Once Conversational." The band intuitively capitalizes on all the right moments of tension, creating a desperate atmosphere of manic terror. Clean guitars and gothic-tinged bass lines swirl into a death march as the band screams: "I hate your words and your ruse/we were once conversational."
I can honestly say that every song on this album is well worth a listen. Some are even deserving of far higher accolades. This is unbelievably catchy, memorable, and intense punk rock- just the way it ought to be. This Computer Kills called it quits far too soon. If you've been waiting for some band to come along and reinvigorate hardcore as we know it, then you'll definitely want to seek out this record. You'll regret it if you don't.