It’s hard to tell if having Steve Albini record X27 will help or hurt them, but there’s no doubt that they dig on his shit. Granted, they seem a bit more mellow and sociable as there is no way in hell that Albini would pen lyrics like “Come dance with me” unless he actually meant to, say, pierce your eyeball with a Phillips head screwdriver as he laughs his ass off—poetically speaking of course. But is danceability, dual gender vocals and flirtatious lyrics enough to differentiate the derivative from the genuine?
With X27’s two voices comes a split personality. While there are recurring themes of blistering no wave and Albini-inspired sonic misanthropy, much of that is taken care of by the more abrasive Rikkeh Suhtn. Suhtn’s vocals seem to have certain limits that he makes decent use of. At times they are excessively pained and tantrum-like, as on “Red is Green” with guitar feedback following behind him like an obedient pet. On other songs, like “Luna,” his voice simmers to a bitter drone before soaring into the familiar scream. It’s typical indie fare, which is neither new or all that impressive and doesn’t seem to spark the album’s pulse as the songs as Carmen X. Carmen X presents a more collected, sexy side of X27 which proves more accommodating than the band’s Scratch Acid leanings. Her bas rhythms are vibrant but competently structured. Her vocals range from acidic punk rock flirtation to an angelic coo not unlike Maria Christopher of, coincidentally enough, 27.
Under her control, X27 is a playful and eccentric—but hardly cute—indie pop band. Yet, at the same time, Carmen also serves as a mediator between the ideas of herself and Suhtn. Bands like Ranier Maria are more like naive, lonely intellectual boys and girls that eat alone and read, not surprisingly, Ranier Maria. Riko Kiley is a more attractive and articulate version of that, only they get hit on by jocks more often. X27’s combined poppy agitation, however, is decidedly stranger and cares only for the fun they’re having and cares less if the jocks or the pretty intellectuals live or die. In this light, Albini’s sparse sound sculpting is actually effective. The influence is obvious, yes, but anything fuller and cleaner would just upset the balance, and there comes a time when an anti-moderate extremist like myself must admit that balance is sometimes nor irritating.
Maybe the misanthropic metaphor is cruel. But sometimes, as X27 clearly displays, one has to be cruel to be cool. Suhtn and X have a good thing going that has a colorful creative evolution behind it already. Weaknesses aside, when the band’s contrasts are stable and allow breathing room for each other, they can be potent and even fun.