Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, Haymarket Riot’s reverence for the Washington, D.C. punk scene of the early ‘90s comes at a heavy cost. With a sound that immediately brings to mind early Fugazi, Jawbox, Hoover, and the poppier sounds of west coast punk rock, Haymarket Riot’s tightly-wound, heavily-influenced brand of modern rock is so steeped in the past that it fails to make an impression.
Mog, Haymarket Riot’s second full-length, is certainly well executed. Singers Kevin J. Frank and Fred Popolo offer up solid, if not particularly memorable vocals that are often nicely trading off each other. The guitar work of Frank and Chris Daly is equally efficient, but nothing we haven’t seen before. This is the feeling that permeates much of MOG—a sense that the listener has already been through this territory before.
Perhaps to try and open up their sound, Haymarket Riot enlisted the help of famed engineer Steve Albini. Known for his raw recording style, which gives equal footing to all the instruments, Albini’s hands-off-the-reverb-and-phaser engineering would have been a tremendous advantage to Haymarket Riot. Unfortunately, the band handed the tapes to producer John Congleton. Whatever dry, unfettered rock sound Albini’s recording would’ve provided is reversed by Congleton’s standard production values. The guitars and vocals are pushed to the front, the drums given second billing, and the bass is an afterthought. So while all the instruments sound good, the downright ordinary production of Congleton only diminishes whatever sonic impact Haymarket Riot could’ve had.
Despite this, Mog does offer a couple of memorable moments. Oddly enough, when the band plays it straight, delivering their take on the melodic punk rock they’re influenced by, the results are strong. “Cue” is a bare-bones rocker that gets the head nodding and might catch the unguarded singing along to the chorus of: “Everybody says: No! No! No!” “Pushing Air” is a strong track as well, evoking the more rhythm section-driven moments of Fugazi’s Repeater.
Unfortunately, the rest of Mog finds Haymarket Riot struggling to find a balance between their melodic sensibilities and their desire to create something musically challenging. Perhaps inspired by their more math rock oriented contemporaries such as Shellac, Oxes, and the late Jesus Lizard, Haymarket Riot unwisely stagger much of the album with awkward riffing. “My Donut, God Damn!” fails to ever get going, weighed down by frustrating start-stop guitar work that keeps the listener at a distance. “Uneasy Consequence”, led by a helluva guitar lick, is also held back by an unwieldy song structure that never quite engages.
If anything, Mog certainly captures the band’s energy and provides evidence that the band must be a force to be reckoned with live. However, when the group is brought into the studio and commits their songs to tape, and the veneer of the live show is stripped away, what’s left is a great replica of punk rock that was best played nearly a decade ago. Haymarket Riot do put forth an admirable effort, but anyone looking for something new to file alongside their Fugazi and Drive Like Jehu records will do best to look elsewhere.
// Notes from the Road
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