When you cut out the fear of God, the dogma, sermons, missionaries and original sin, institutions of religion exist to make people feel good. It’s why you see so many “God is Awesome” stickers on people’s cars. It’s why Christian rock sounds so damn positive. And it’s why all of your favorite drug-addicted rock stars at some point turned to religion to replace the high after going clean. People are drawn to religion to be inspired and enraptured, which is why Gospel music is always upbeat and in a major key. If someone wants to further his relationship with God in music, he’s not likely to play or listen to something slow and depressing.
But there are plenty of odd exceptions to the rule. Take The Danielson Famile, for instance, who are just plain bizarre. And why Black Eyes ever decided to take on religion in song is even more of a mystery. The Washington, D.C. fivesome’s second (and final) album, Cough is an unlikely outlet for the vocalization of religion, as it’s even more chaotic and discordant (dischord-ant?) than the band’s self-titled debut.
Cough begins with a delay-heavy, dubby instrumental that slowly deconstructs until it crashes headfirst into the next track, “Eternal Life.” It is here that Black Eyes begin to mix their brand of noise rock with the Good Book. In a whirlwind of feedback and saxophone howls, vocalist Hugh McElroy shouts a verse from the Gospel according to Mathew: “who have eyes to see let them see/who have ears to hear let them hear.”
The combination of Black Eyes’ music and Gospel verse speak more to the idea of God as all-powerful. If music were playing during Arjuna’s vision of Krishna as Brahman, it probably would have sounded something like “Eternal Life.” Though, the song does gradually become more rhythmic and slightly more melodic. The following track, “False Positive” combines punk rock and dub, much like a more manic Clash. Black Eyes takes a turn for the inspirational, however, as McElroy shouts “open up your fucking mind and you can fly!”
“Holy of Holies” is easily the best track on the album, as it is the most dynamic and interesting. Never veering into noise and sheer chaos like many of Cough‘s other tracks, “Holy” begins with a Klezmer-like melody and some verses in Hebrew, before turning into a more groove-heavy song. Q and Not U’s Chris Richards lends his talents to a verse, as well.
Religion isn’t the main topic in every song, however, as the last two songs, “Another Country” and “A Meditation” involve some political ranting. In the former, Daniel Martin-McCormick screeches “These days I’ve been finding it hard to trust myself/as oil drums carry our nation’s blood” and in the latter he chants, “the skies of America seem to darken each week/deafened by the clatter of a sinking ship.” Whatever the message, Black Eyes delivers with equal fervor and conviction.
It’s not clear what the members of Black Eyes truly believe, but their channeling of different religious texts and political poems add a much-needed sense of conviction. It’s a shame this will be the last we ever hear from them though, because they were just beginning to manifest into something truly spectacular.
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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.