[27 March 2012]
With the Freshkills, darkness isn’t something to wallow in, but a state worth reveling over. After all, why be mopey when you could be celebrating? Isn’t nihilism more interesting, and thereby more liberating? Embracing the dark and transcending the light is something The Freshkills exemplify with aplomb in their third LP, Raise Up the Sheets. Hell, the group directly acknowledges such an approach with the record’s opening lyrics, “Step into the light / Come out on the other side,” an asson-rattling voodoo romp carrying the message forward.
It’s fitting that the Brooklyn quintet is named after a Staten Island landfill, as the ambiance set by green flames burning up methane emissions seeps through the stereo. They’re truly ingrained in the muck, carrying on the tradition of New York sleaze and grime typified by the Velvet Underground, Television, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. The stamp of the Birthday Party’s frenzy is all over the new record, albeit reined in to a more palatable form. Come to think of it, maybe a New York-styled Gun Club is a more appropriate description. It’s surely no coincidence that leader singer Zachary Lipez’s distinctive voice is a pitch-perfect synergy of Nick Cave’s feral croon and Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s barbaric yawp.
Lipez’s lyrics are defined by witticisms and self-deprecating turns-of-phrase. On the surface, there’s the standard woe-is-me, but it’s delivered with tongue firmly in-cheek; it’s clear Lipez is enjoying himself through the gloom (“Let’s not pretend / That death’s the worst of all our options / Is it? / No!,” he hollers dementedly on “The Bigger Man”). His approach almost comes off as a commentary on the dour motifs innate to so much of the post-punk subgenre. Nowhere is the band more self-conscious than on lead single (and poppiest number) “Positive Vibes”, equal parts gothic love song and a snarky renunciation of such conventions. “I don’t want to have fun / I had fun before / I want to lie in the dark all day / With you,” Lipez sings in the ridiculously catchy chorus, Mishka Shubaly’s throbbing bass pulsating beneath the vocals. And there’s scarcely a more cocksure come-on this side of Greg Dulli than “If I’m gonna go to hell / I’ll take the entrance through your thighs.”
Musically, the album features quite a variety of textures, though they all seem conjured from some nocturnal netherworld. The interplay between guitarists Tim Murray and Jonny Rauberts is a feat to behold, ranging from jangly (“Frankie & Johnny”) to a staccato menace (“New Folksongs for New Buildings”). “The Wolves That Raised You” flows with urgency, evoking the yellow streetlight glow of a midnight drive. Drummer Jim Paradise shines on “Hotels”, alternating from a subtle rhythm in the verses to hammering with wild abandon in the chorus as Lipez sings of the solace afforded by fleeting companionship in the face of nothingness (“There is no future / No resolution / Until there is / Baby, I’m your man”). The aforementioned “The Bigger Man” is an anxious ditty, sounding like the interior soundtrack of a madman’s psyche, somehow merging discord with melody.
About the only shortcoming of the record is that at times it sounds a bit too ‘80s, the homage bordering on derivative at times. Sounding like an anachronism can have its charm, and that is the case for most of Raise up the Sheets, but the effect can and does wear thin over prolonged duration. This aspect is probably simultaneously to the credit and blame of producer Jim Sclavunos, indie rock royalty as a drummer for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Grinderman, the Cramps, Sonic Youth, and others. This one flaw is hardly insurmountable, though. With a little ironing out of the cosmetic kinks, there’s no reason the Freshkills won’t proceed to deliver on the promise of inheriting their influences’ mantel.