The Serfs operate in a continuous state of expansion. The 11 songs on the Cincinnati post-punk trio’s debut album Sounds of Serfdom were built from a minimalist synth-based approach, brooding and gothic, downloaded from a 5 and a half inch floppy disk aerogrammed in from West Berlin. Their 2022 sophomore album Primal Matter brought a more diverse array of hues into their palette, twinkles of guitar jangle and even an occasional major key. Around the same time, members of the group undertook the opportunity to explore other variations on post-punk, gothic rock and industrial dub through side projects such as Crime of Passing and The Drin, the rapidly increasing level of output and diversity of approach, despite their naturally connected aesthetic, seemingly setting this trio of musicians apart as a scene unto themselves.
Half Eaten by Dogs is the band’s third album and first to be released via Trouble in Mind, and it’s the most fully realized showcase for The Serfs’ ever-shifting take on post-punk. As Primal Matter more explicitly displayed the sound of a proper band, with disparate parts moving in harmony and chemistry, Half Eaten by Dogs carries that idea forward by further emphasizing the physicality of a band as a live unit. It’s all right there in the first song, “Order Imposing Sentence,” the first Serfs album opener to emphasize guitars and live drums over electronic pulses, its droning krautrock-punk driving and urgent, as Dylan McCartney chants of broken and disjointed images from what sound like a horrific disaster: “Runoff, runoff from the transport, and it’s game day/petrochemical game day.” Dire as it sounds, the band conjure up a more fun kind of danger—leather jackets and motorcycles more than punctured oil tankers.
The sounds on Half Eaten by Dogs oscillate between dingy punk clubs and cold war bunkers, brilliant beams of light and rusted networks of twisted metal. The textures and tonal palette change, but whatever foundation they start from, The Serfs are always concerned with rising higher and gradually filling all the open space they have to work with. The acid 303 repetitions of “Cheap Chrome” evoke the primitive punk rock organ pulses of Suicide, upon which they layer heavy punches of snare drum, gloomy guitar riffs and synth reverberations that arrive like water droplets in a cave. There’s a similar outward expansion on “Suspension Bridge Collapse,” with percussive echoes rippling out into a crystalline synth sheen against McCartney voicing a series of oblique images: “A partisan flower/A winter ice shrine.”
As The Serfs continue to build upward and outward, they’ve placed greater emphasis on the most accessible and purely enjoyable aspects of their sound. A band that cites Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and Chrome among their most significant influences still operates within varying shades of abrasive and obscure, but the Hacienda disco crash of “Club Deuce” is proof enough of the band’s ability to tap into pure corporeal pleasure. And “The Dice Man Will Become” allows the slightest ray of ultraviolet into The Cure’s morose early ’80s drive.
At various points throughout Half Eaten by Dogs, there’s a sense of anything-goes possibility, whether through the EBM robotics of “Electric Like An Eel” or the sax-laced Twin Peaks coldwave of “Spectral Analysis.” Despite the haunted atmosphere in which much of The Serfs’ music dwells, they before sounded as if they were having this much fun exploring the possibilities of where those shadowy tunnels might lead. Which, occasionally, is pure hedonic bliss; on “Club Deuce” Andie Luman sings, “Moving to my surroundings/Is my dopamine pleasure,” and the feeling is nothing if not infectious, a pleasure that can be all yours.
Label: Trouble in Mind
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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.