I haven't left this dungeon since I don't know when
Never mind their four years off. Forget about those two lousy EPs. The Red Eyed Legends crank to life with a mouth-foaming aggression, jag-edged guitar riffs rebounding off the crazy confines of their songs, squawks and honks of Farfisa flying, and frontman Chris Thomson snarling out hazily rhymed, rapid-motion lines. “Monsters”, the first and best song off the band’s long-delayed full-length begins with the kick and recoil of guitar and Thomson’s spatter-painted lyrics. When in Circus Lupus, Thomson acknowledged the influence of Mark E. Smith, and there’s certainly a touch of the Fall’s jackhammer poetry here. “Black clouds are settling in / I see through a blindfold that can stare them in / Cos I haven’t left this dungeon since I don’t know when / Thank god for daytime television”, Thomson chants, and perhaps he did spend his off time curled in the fetal position watching Oprah. You’d never know from the music, though, which is as sharp, fresh, and aggressive as if the Red Eyed Legends had been playing and recording the whole time.
The Red Eyed Legends have been kicking around for most of the decade, playing occasional shows and turning up on the Shellac-curated Chicago edition of Burn to Shine in 2004. Members of the band have fairly illustrious histories. Frontman Chris Thomson was in the seminal post-hardcore band Circus Lupus, as well as early spazz/noise rock outfit the Monorchid. Kiki Yablon, on guitar and Farfisa, was in the Dishes. The band has, however, had very limited recorded output: two disappointing EPs. Wake Up, Legend comes four years after their last release, the EP Mutual Insignificance.
On this first full-length, the band’s sound is pitched somewhere between garage rock and punk, its stutter spazz intensity recalling the Ex Models, its giddy swathes of organ tone evoking classic stompers like the Lyres. “Je M’Apelle Macho” is a ripping tangle of rumble-ready guitars and cross-band shouts, all sharp, acute angles and staccato rhythms. The guitar solo that breaks from all this chaotic angst, though, has a tinge of 60s surf in it, an evil, melodic heft like one of the Mermen with a bad migraine. Later, on “Bloody Birds” a spook-house Farfisa takes center stage, building bright, wavery textures of sound behind Thomson’s hoarse-throated rhyming. It’s slower, sludgier, with long-time drummer Paul Higgins pounding tribal tom fills against a spaced-out beat, and guitars crashing, then subsiding.
The band is chaotically tight, a machine gun splatter of notes rebounding off walls at crazy angles, yet meshing somehow into a steady, head-pounding rhythm. Like the Fall, they create a boxy, constrained sound whose firestorm energy is concentrated and contained within repetitive structures. It’s a platform, really, for Thomson, who riffs rhythmically over the music, his lines full of internal stresses and cadences. The words are linked up in chains, joined more by the way they sound than what they mean. Consider, for instance, this line from “Flash Bulbz”: “No one ever says the words just right / No one wants to talk / They just want to bite / No one ever lasts more than one night / No one ever quite puts up a fight”. The extreme cadence of the words, the emphatic long “I” sound at the close of each phrase, creates a beat on its own, even without the accompanying instruments. That internal rhythm, augmented with occasional group shouts and call-and-responses, makes the Red Eyed Legends sound sometimes like an extremely rough, garage-rocking kind of rap.
The downside is that there’s not a lot of melody in these songs and that, taken all together, they start to sag. One sharp-edged, off-kilter riff is much like another. One fractious, head-banging lyric leads inexorably to the next. These are mix tape cuts—a blast of pure aggressive energy in small quantities, but kind of exhausting over the long haul. Still, if it’s time for you to wake up, as it was for these Red Eyed Legends, you could do worse than “Monsters”. There’s no snooze button on that cut, that’s for sure.