Five to ten years ago, a band like Channels wouldn’t have necessarily been so unusual. Dissonant riffs, soaring choruses, heavily-slammed drum beats—it’s all quite familiar, and quite welcome for that matter. But five years ago, Fugazi wasn’t on hiatus, Q and Not U was still together, and, well, so were Burning Airlines for that matter. But that’s not the case today. Though bands like Uzeda and Lungfish still trudge on with their sludgy post-hardcore, each of these bands is a decidedly acquired taste, neither possessing the mastery of melodic songwriting that J. Robbins does. Thus, Waiting For the Next End of the World, Channels’ full-length debut following their Open EP, is a rare phenomenon in 2006.
Those, like myself, who have been listening to J. Robbins’ bands for the past decade should have some idea of what to expect on Waiting. A mighty rumble of bass, those impossibly discordant and somehow catchy guitar riffs, and playful, yet subversive lyrics permeate the record, carrying Robbins’ torch into the second half of the decade. That’s not to say it’s “predictable” by any means. It has its share of surprises, both in its twists toward more straightforward punk sounds, as well as its slower, more atmospheric tracks. Both can be attributed in part to Channels being a trio, utilizing a smaller number of players than we’re used to with Robbins and his notorious dual guitar attacks.
Neither as austere as Fugazi or as quirky as The Dismemberment Plan or Beauty Pill, Channels finds a happy medium between the two, playing ultimately “serious” rock music, though not without a sense of humor. Opener “To the New Mandarins” may bust through the door with pummeling beats and a commanding series of shouts reflecting the current administration’s reign of paranoia and fear, courtesy of Robbins, though as the chorus promises “pranking the homeland hotline/threat level yellow sunshine,” that venomous tongue finds its home in a nearby cheek. “Lucky Lamb” furthers the band’s cause toward melodicism, resulting in one of the most accessible songs on the album. Meanwhile, the abrasive “The Licensee” finds the first vocal performance by bassist (and Robbins’ wife) Janet Morgan, who also provides the lead vocals on the dreamy waltz “Hug the Floor.”
“Mayday” carries a frantic pace, as well as one of the most urgent choruses, and the re-recorded version of Open‘s “Chivaree” more closely hones its intensity while perfecting the vocal background “aaahs.” Somehow, the album manages to swing upward toward a manic climax, reaching the spastic “$99.99” and launching into the (kinda) straight-ahead punk rocker “New Logo,” finally letting go of much of the tension with the comparatively subdued “Little Empires.”
From beginning to end, Waiting For the Next End of the World is an exhausting listen, and one with plenty of new tricks, even for a horse that’s been bucking for more than two decades. And furthermore, it’s as pissed off a record as you’re going to hear all year. Robbins, Morgan and drummer Darren Zentek, all D.C. punk veterans, have taken their collective talents and mashed them into one of the most fierce, and more importantly, listenable post-hardcore records of the year. Too bad there aren’t many more like it.
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.