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Melt-Banana + An Albatross

(15 Apr 2005: The Ottobar — Baltimore)

Your inhibitions are your inertia. Pennsylvania Inferno!!!

That’s what he said. This is what he meant:

Lunging into the crowd, caught in the bounds of forward motion, gravity quickly brings the man crashing down, slamming his body into the hands, and faces, of the front row. Head tossing recklessly, he backstrokes across the audience, eyes focused, aware. Catching a glint of solid steel, the man reaches over his head, firmly grasping the edges one of the club’s vertical support beams. In one fluid motion his legs flip above his head, locking around the beam. Muscles straining, his inverted body scrambles, upside down, to the top. Still hanging, feet inches from the ceiling, he turns his head toward us, long greasy locks shielding his eyes, and levels a delirious banshee cry.

Meanwhile the stages pulses as the man’s cohorts deliver steady wallops of ear-piercing noise—everyone except the bassist; he’s flipped his instrument upside down above his head, mirroring the singer’s body. Balancing it firmly on his chin, the bassist removes his hands and the instrument, like the singer, hangs defiantly in the air.

I never cared much for An Albatross. Their records bear ridiculous titles like We Are the Lazer Viking and Eat Lightning, Shit Thunder and clock in at barely ten minutes apiece. In short, the group is absurd, some Dungeons and Dragons hardcore band perpetually in the midst of tuning their instruments. But, as globs of sweat drip smoothly “down” lead singer Edward B. Gieda III’s face, soon to brave a twelve-foot drop, I’m inclined to take new stock.

Live, the band’s screamo/noise/splatter sound is so deliciously propulsive that it waylays the senses, ceasing all feeling of time and space. My nerves run ragged. Gieda has clearly watched every Iggy Pop bootleg in existence and moved on to G.G. Allin. When he’s not defying gravity, and rationality for that matter, he flails across the stage in ever-eccentric waves. Meanwhile, Jake Lisowski’s hands speed across his guitar, scorching the strings with constant, unceasing riffage. Buried in the back, second keyboardist Kat Paffett seems a innocent virgin lost amongst wolves. She’s pretty and reserved, bobbing her head quietly. Perhaps she was stolen from her home by the band of mischievous scoundrels but Stockholm syndrome has already set in. She smiles widely, watching the boys make their mischief.

Unlike The Locust these guys don’t need costumes to supplement their metallic, hardcore theatrics. They’re already steeped in stereotype and cliché, the ultimate embodiment of the cock-rocking HEAVY. Of course this is intentional; they can’t be entirely serious. The irony is that, all kitsch aside, they rock as hard, or harder, than the real deal.

Ears still ringing, I reach for my friend. I speak the words loudly; if my ears are any indication a deafening ring is absorbing his attention.

“Can Melt-Banana really top that?”

Well, they’re gonna give it a try. After all, Melt-Banana didn’t come all the way from Japan to be upstaged by some pipsqueaks from Pennsylvania. An Albatross may have brought spectacle but Melt-Banana won out with an earnest call to action. Only moments into their set, a pit explodes: hyped-up band dorks and snotty noise aficionados start trading jabs. There’s a surprising lack of hardcore kids, meatheads, and others generally more disposed to tearing it up. The pit is no embarrassment—it’s plenty hard hitting—but it’s strangely unmasculine, occupied by skinny men wearing blue goggles rather than badasses in spikes and boots. I find myself swept into the melee, throwing soft fists into equally soft flesh.

Guitarist Agata, wearing a blue surgical mask, layers dissonant vibrations upon one another, working a row of effects pedals to illogical ends. He’s riffing and sampling and building and screaming and generally driving the show forward. Further built up with stomping drums and equally dexterous bass work, the music takes on a speedy grind tone, noisy and abrasive. Singer Yasuko O keeps pace with piercing, earsplitting vocals, black hair flailing across the microphone.

Halfway through the set she spatters out the words, in a broken, exaggerated accent, “Weee going tooo seeeeng sum quikk oonezz now.”

What follows is an amusing/enchanting/terrifying 12-song progression:

Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.
Dis son iz called [weird title]: [6 sec. of ridiculous noise] ... Thaank you.

The “Thaank yous” are spoken softly, the sweet, introverted voice of an innocent schoolgirl. It’s in this moment that you realize, Yasuko O is an odd duck indeed: vibrant, unrelenting, and full of fire, but also cute and composed. When she speaks between numbers she’s quirky and polite but once the song begins she unleashes an ungodly racket. Who’d have thought THE ULTIMATE FURY would find its home in the body of some skinny Asian girl?

The band hammers through its set and returns for another two. They slam them out to riotous response then hit the wings. The lights come up and music fills the PA. I can’t hear it, but it’s there. Despite the club’s urgings though, many are refusing to leave. They stand, heads cocked, screaming for the band’s return. After a confused ten minutes the band reemerges, despite the loss of a third of the crowd, for one final number. The pit writhes and pulses, and the band rages though a final booming bellow

As we leave the club, the doorway seems wider. It is. The club’s tall, iron door stands naked in the alley, twisted and bent beyond rational bounds. A police officer surveys the scene, remarking that someone must have hit it with a car; that’s the only explanation. Maybe. Or maybe even metal itself bends beneath the blow of such ferocious metal fury. Maybe an amazing closing cliché has fallen smack into my lap.


Andrew Phillips is an entertainment writer/editor living in Brooklyn, New York. He recently left his post as Managing Editor for the Daily Washington Law Reporter, a small legal periodical in the District of Columbia to pursue his fortune in the big(er) city.

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