I know almost nothing about We Versus the Shark. I know almost nothing about math rock. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I’m going there loudly and repeatedly.
There’s this: We Versus the Shark comes out of Athens, GA, where it’s probably almost okay to be from again. They (“We?”) haven’t been together for all that long, but they’ve been waiting awhile for Ruin Everything!, the debut album recorded mostly last winter, occasionally live and to analog. Four people make up the band, including a girl. Sometimes other people help out.
You should know this, too: Ruin Everything opens with “You Don’t Have to Kick It”, it gives dancepunk a send-off by way of post-punk, but it’s neither. You’ll hear those genres mentioned quite a bit around this band in the next few weeks, but neither one quite fits. The band shows off too much nastiness and virtuosity to be pinned down like that.
Math runk has the energy and aggression of punk, but it’s really complicated and has all these jazz and prog influences and the time-signature changes and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t really matter if the music rocks hard, and matters even less if it doesn’t. We Versus the Shark doesn’t really do all the technical planning, but they’re still really tight. They also chop their songs up into short, changing segments. Unless you’re much, much better than me, you won’t learning these songs by playing along the second time you hear them.
But Ruin Everything! has loads of hooks. Sometimes they switch so fast that you can’t really groove on them. “As Good As It Gets” as a string of three separate, memorable hooks that take place in the span of about 20 seconds. At moments it could almost be pop, or at least dirtier pop-punk, or at least punk. Only it isn’t.
I’m tired. On to lyrics. Half the time they don’t make any sense. All the time I don’t care. We Versus the Shark scream a lot, but they sing sometimes, too. Every so often I get scared. “I Am At the Mercy of an Ambulance Driver” tells a first-person narrative about a man who dies but returns as a cannibalistic zombie and says, “Horror stories left out the details of godless resurrection / All I was has returned but the face.” He might have been shocked back to life in an ambulance. He might really be a monster. Both things might be true.
The focus on death comes up again, in “Ten Uh Clock Heart Uh Tack”. The medical fear is still there, too: “It’s easy to forget how easy is motionless / I’m a corpse that can use a computer / I could be a real team player” refers to life (“life” here reconsidered) on a respirator. It’s a bit bleak. It (the song only?) ends like this: “Swirl. Breath. Breathe. Stop. / Swirl. Breath. Burn. Stop. Fall out, fall out, fall…”
But you have to know this to get the full effect of that moment: We Versus the Shark write these meta-songs about songs and not-quite-dance-music about dancing. The album’s first track contains Joycean stream of consciousness about a partier who has dropped to the floor. “Legs kick kick legs walk kick out / Wait. Stop. Send. Message: / Quit running.” This pattern recurs. By the time you watch the heart attack (or at least by the time you do so on your inevitable second listen), the rhythm and flow could be a smarter !!!, but then We ratchet up the significance level. Dying in a hospital isn’t like dancing. It’s a little confusing, and affecting.
But back to the music (this is all very clear by the packaging; the band’s provided an outline on the tray card for you). You should rock out. See, the point isn’t that dying isn’t like dancing, but that losing the music—collapsing at a party—is like dying. Losing art is like ruining everything. If you get shocked back to life and your soul—your head-banging, unskilled-dancing soul—was damaged, then you weren’t really brought back. But club music (dance, discopunk, funk, take your pick) isn’t quite enough to convey that message for We. We, by which I mean They, have to pile layers on instrumentals on each other. It must be intense! But no showboating, because it must be fun and rock!
That’s it, I still don’t know what math rock is, primarily because you can’t use it as a verb.