The three not-so-gentlemen in A-Frames are no newcomers to punk rock. Having been weaned on bands like Cows, Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid, the Seattle trio is made up of strictly old school post-hardcore purists. And they could certainly teach today’s young punks a thing or two about banging out a deafening ruckus. They produce the sort of screeching highs and bowel-loosening lows that could cause instant tinnitus. The proof is in Black Forest, their Sub Pop debut.
Showing further evidence of Sub Pop’s recent split between the melodic and the malignant, A-Frames falls somewhere between the two, veering somewhat closer to the latter. Black Forest is the sort of punk album that could have been on Ace of Hearts in ’80, Amphetamine Reptile in ’92 or Touch and Go in ’94, but as it happens, doesn’t sound dated. For some reason, noise and pain are just as effective today as they were ten years ago.
A-Frames have, essentially, one trick — twitch-inducing uneasy-listening robot punk. But it’s a damn good trick and the group stretches it to its limits. There are buzzing instrumentals like “Black Forest 1,” straight-ahead punk blasts like “Experiment,” mid-tempo rumblers like “Black Forest 2” and even a slower song, like the oddly-tuned but strangely melodic “Eva Braun.” This is cold, frightening music made by humans with a knack for sounding inhuman. But that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. Just ask Albini.
A strange trend develops over the last half of the record, however. After six songs of cranium-scraping noise-rock, the songs veer in a more melodic direction. The tuning is still weird, the guitars still wail like power saws, but it all goes together in an oddly beautiful way. Just when you think A-Frames are ready to get even more abrasive, they go in the opposite direction, playing songs like “U-Boat.” That changes, yet again, on the frightening dirge-werk “My Teacher,” but it’s a nice ride while it lasts.
A-Frames may not be as cacophonous as recent Sub Pop signees Wolf Eyes, but they do a good job of drilling your ear drums on their own. Black Forest is loud, abrasive and at times, oddly catchy. There’s nothing distinctly new about A-Frames’ music, but they play punk rock in a way that few have been known to do. And as far as I’m concerned, the more bands that attempt this brand of spastic noise-punk, the merrier.
Shellac – At Action Park
Jesus Lizard – Liar
Six Finger Satellite – Severe Exposure
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.