Only The Locust can put keyboards into punk rock and make them sound even more grating than guitars. Starting with their cult classic, self-titled debut album in 1997, the San Diego band has gone one to completely rewrite the rules of what exactly can be done in hardcore, consistently challenging listeners, and stretching the boundaries of the normally rigid genre to the point where you expect the whole thing to cave in at any second. Continuing in the tradition of classic grindcore, and pre-dating the math-rock brilliance of The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Locust always manage to toss in so many different styles of music into their 40-second compositions, that it’s often impossible to fully digest in one sitting. One second, you get insane blastbeats ... the next, some whimsical, Devo-style synths. Then a little arbitrary, abstract, Cecil Taylor-meets-punk flourish thrown in. All that, plus high-pitched screams that seem to yell out fascinating art rock lyrics, but you’ll be damned if you can figure out if that’s exactly what they’re saying.
A band as prolific as they are unconventional, The Locust have hopped around from indie label to indie label, appearing on such places as Gold Standard Laboratories, Anti-, and now, the most appropriate home for music this weird, Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records. So what does this band do as soon as they sign with America’s leading distributor of unclassifiable, avant-garde contemporary music? They go ahead and release the most accessible CD they’ve ever recorded.
Safety Second, Body Last may be short in running time (a paltry 10 minutes and 11 seconds), but anyone familiar with The Locust’s music will know that these guys pack more into a 10-minute record than most hardcore bands do in 45 minutes. This is highly concentrated spazz-rock, extremely volatile, and furiously paced. It doesn’t seem like much, but like the debut, 10 minutes of this kind of abrasive music is just about the right amount.
The CD might consist of two tracks, but it’s essentially one piece, divided into seven sections. “Who’s Handling the Population Paste” begins in classic Locust style, with 30 seconds of grind insanity, but it suddenly shifts into a moment of ambient synths by Joey Karam (a recurring theme on this EP), before moving into a much more turgid pace, combining screeching guitar work by Bobby Bray and much heavier, distorted keyboards, the lyrics reflecting their urban Southern California home: “So call it a lifestyle, but it’s a filthy fucking traffic jam in disguise.” Starting with part two of “Consenting Abscess”, and through “Movement Across the Membrane” and “Oscillating Eyes”, the band launches into a fabulous blast of musical insanity, all held together by the brilliant drumming of Gabe Serbian, before segueing into Karam’s third synth interlude.
In the past, The Locust have bordered on being too creative for their own good, but on Safety Second, Body Last, their music is starting to show more growth than it has in the past five years. A perfect companion piece to Fantomas’s more lighthearted Suspended Animation, The Locust offer a fascinating contrast, full of viciously dadaist musical fragments and surreal, perceptive lyrics. Put it on in the background, and it’ll seem all too brief; give it a close listen, and it sounds damn near epic.