Sometimes a band can be so schizophrenic stylistically that it’s hard to pin them down. Other times that particular wide range of tweaks and twangs helps to keep that band a moving target which means it’s much harder for a sound to get stale. Of course, merely observing a band pitching to and fro, hither and yon between styles can be a format of its own. But it can also be maddening. It can even feel as if the band are at war with its audience with a specific aim to be confrontational and challenging.
Often times this manifests in the form of something overly aggressive and abrasive. Steve Albini and his band, Big Black, are particularly known for this kind of aural aggression. That band was also known for their stunning originality. But there is something to chasing a band all over the map trying to find center or abandon all notions of order and succumbing to the chaos. When humans are off-balance the tendency is to make for the straightest line to something familiar but what happens when there is nothing familiar?
This is the question at the core of Cinema Cinema’s latest piece of work, Man Bites Dog. Any fan of Black Flag’s particular brand of mania will find themselves right at home in the initial stages of the album. In fact, it’s really no wonder that this band have found themselves something of a home alongside Greg Ginn on the road as one would imagine this is the kind of material with urgency and relevance that the punk stalwart wishes he were still producing. It’s actually quite surprising this isn’t an SST release all things considered but it doesn’t stop what this band are from being absolutely jaw-dropping.
The band adeptly flirts with At the Drive-In chaos, the sinewy framework of the Minutemen, and the manic theater of Jim Morrison even throwing some sax into the mix because why the fuck not? Cinema Cinema are essentially as anachronistic as a band can get. No track sounds similar to another for too long; sometimes not even to itself. The band checks into Jesus Lizard-type grooves and growls now and again that make it feel as much like a performance art piece as it does a contemporary piece of music.
“I walk the plank without a panic” singer, Ev Gold, declares on the sprawling and spasming “Exotic Blood”. The song itself dares you to make it through without finding the need for a Xanax. The duo expertly pull the listener back and forth between convention and chaos, which very well could be the overall theme of the album when taken as a whole. This is especially true considering that the general manner of the sequence of the album is to continue in a devolutionary pattern with brief respites in the form of chugging riffs or half-time groove breakdowns before launching itself at a wall again and generally thrashing about in an all out assault on the senses. The tangled lines of the guitar create odd-pattern cobwebs that are punched through by Paul Claro’s relentless drumming all over this album.
By the time you get to “Mask of the Red Death”, the album’s sixth track, the band revert to bashing your brains in with their own take on a theme for a mental ward on a Friday night. Imagining this track live is exhausting, overwhelming, and not necessarily what I would describe as “fun” for most humans but the nuggets of more palatable jams that emerge from the madness are so worth it that the whole convoluted piece comes into relief with each passing second. The initial calm of album closer, “Shiner No. 5”, is short-lived as it also turns itself into a jazzy punk free-for-all as if to remind you that there really is nowhere safe here.
The band approach the album with a willingness to careen off the side of the road, slamming into the guardrail, then jerking the car with us in it back onto the road only to look at us with a gap-toothed bloody smile saying, “This sure is fun, ain’t it?!? AIN’T IT?!?” Or perhaps that’s just the kind of premonition of insanity the band conjures up by throwing wave after wave of noise at us? Man Bites Dog is a robust document of a powerful band sounding every bit as mental as the promo would have you believe and that’s a damn good thing.
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Cinema Cinema’s Man Bites Dog is out now via Labelship. You can purchase it through their Bandcamp here.