[7 September 2010]
Child Bite does something different; it sounds like other bands, but not every other band. This is a fine distinction. Child Bite’s sound is composed of a different set of references than the ones typically in play right now. There’s no folk, no beach dreaminess, no symphonic pop, nothing electronic or synthesized. Right off the bat, this difference makes it sound fresher.
Child Bite plays layered music that is somehow still relatively simple. The album opener “Manacles”, one of the most successful tracks, begins with a smooth groove that gets nicely and jarringly interrupted by a punk surf guitar line à la Easy Bay Ray. This kind of change-up in song direction is one thing that makes the band so interesting. The most apt description of the overall sound is that of a circus, and not simply because of the prominent organ pumping in every song. Is this the organ the album title speaks about? Or is it a reference to singer Shawn Knight’s mouth which yells atop the crazy party sounds of the rest of the band? The band’s noise sounds like the felicitous congregation of an unruly group of musicians who are actually having fun doing what they do, but the layered instrumentation ultimately gets flattened out by the vocals, which are basically an atonal harangue that almost doesn’t stop from track one to track thirteen. There’s a breather for the instrumental, almost eponymous, “Organ Summer”, but the vocals get boring. Knight has a bit of David Thomas in him, but whatever wit he possesses gets drowned out in his growl. It doesn’t help that the lyrics printed in the album sleeve are basically illegible.
While the songs have definite structure, the instruments, guitars, organ, and even saxophone, find ways to nicely accent different parts at different times. That gives the songs a sense of discovery in necessary moments of change. On the album highlight, “Paws Perilous”, which features the most melodic vocals of all the songs, a nice guitar line comes in to finish the melody perfectly. These touches make each song intriguing, even if they become repetitive. Still, the catchy chorus of “Paws Perilous” is the exception in terms of melody, and this exception comes from the addition of the background vocals, not necessarily from Knight’s own living, breathing organ.
It’s nice to hear a band that has spent a lot of time listening to Pere Ubu. But Child Bite can’t pull off the avant part of avant-punk. In the end, the sheen wears off. Child Bite would have been a fitting band on a lineup for one of the early Lollapaloozas because the band has an exciting edge that has been largely absent in pop rock since Nirvana. However, by the end of the album every song sounds the same, using the same formula, and the edge rounds off into one or two standout songs.