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SSM

Break Your Arm for Evolution

(Alive; US: 29 Jan 2008; UK: 11 Feb 2008)

Garage synth? Dance fuzz? What the hell is this?

The three men who make up SSM have roots in the midwestern garage rock underground. Keyboardist John Szymanski comes from the Hentchmen, drummer Dave Shettler from the Sights, and guitarist Marty Morris from the Cyril Lords. They recruited Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys to record this debut album. And their label, Alive, distributes through Bomp Records. Yet, despite all these indications, Break Your Arm for Evolution is not a garage rock record in any traditional Sonics/Stooges/Dolls sense. Rather, it has shreds of funk, swathes of guitar-soloing cock metal, and intervals of synthy dance beats. It mutates from song to song, shifting from the heavy sludge of “Regenerate Your Face” to the electro-lightness of “Start Dancing” without skipping a beat. You wonder what the principals would say, cornered at a party or meeting a friend by chance on a street corner, when asked the inevitable question, “So, what kind of music is it?” 


The answer is, it depends. In “Déjà vu,” the album’s opening track, the style veers towards gleeful funk rock, a head-first dive into the stop-start rhythms of, say, the Spin Doctors, buoyed by dance-friendly keyboard rhythms and split in half by a shredding, distorted guitar solo. “Johnny’s Holding for the First Time” is a martial chant paced by snare drums and prone, at the chorus, to thick plasticky walls of synthesizer and guitar. And “Regenerate Your Face” combines gangsta attitude (“Bitches to the left / Bitches to the right”) with heavy blues rock riffs, a genetic splice of two of Detroit’s best-known musical styles. 


These first three songs are the album’s heaviest outings. With them out of the way, the band turns lighter and more playful. “Start Dancing” opens with a almost a minute of synthetic percussion and keyboards, all clinks and pings and syncopation, before the melody begins. After the distortion and density of three songs, it feels almost transparent, bubble-fragile and unserious. “Marian”, which follows, is similarly light-footed, its clattery, funk-inflected drums running rampant under a spoken-sung chant that sounds a little like early Beck. Here SSM turns, almost, into a jam band, romping over free-flowing, syncopated rhythms with an insouciant, sunny-day charm. It’s an unexpected turn to the left, a song that has nothing whatsoever to do with earlier tracks from the album, but clearly a highlight. 


With “Let’s Make a Baby”, there’s another shift, this time towards robot new wave/funk, like the Human League crossed with KC and the Sunshine Band.  This song, and the following one, a Winnie-the-Pooh rip called “Now We’re Six”, have you wondering if the men of SSM are on the verge of family-hood, maybe painting a spare room pastel pink or blue.  And that’s fine, because really, the only genre they haven’t dipped into on Break Your Arm For Evolution is kiddie rock.  It’s always good to save something for the second album.

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