Chromatics: Plaster Hounds

Kevin Jagernauth


Plaster Hounds

Label: Gold Standard Laboratories
US Release Date: 2004-02-17
UK Release Date: 2004-02-16

When Liars dropped They Were Wrong So We Drowned earlier this year, the white-belted dance punks who grooved to They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top were baffled. Liars essentially removed the groove, replacing it with a dark, haunted post-punk vision that turned away as many old fans as it won new ones. Listening to the Chromatics' sophomore effort, Plaster Hounds, I couldn't help but feel a sense of déjà vu. With the year not even half over, we have another album that is an equally challenging foray into post-punk, although the payoff isn't quite as satisfying.

Where Liars bury their influences under a veneer of noise and outright weirdness, the Chromatics are upfront about them. The inner artwork directly cribs from the Fall's Dragnet and the final track, "Program", is a cover of the enigmatic Silver Apples' classic song. Rhythmically, the Chromatics clearly have some Lee "Scratch" Perry and Maceo Parker records on hand, as bassist Nat Sahlstrom and drummer Ron Avila (also of grindcore outfit Holy Molar) lay down some seriously thick grooves.

The curious thing about Plaster Hounds is that, despite the solid rhythm section, the songs feel strangely empty. To call guitarist Adam Miller's playing minimal would be an understatement. His work is relegated to nothing more than window dressing to the dense sounds coming from the other players. Miller and Sahlstrom are left to fill out the songs on the vocal duties they share. As neither singer is particularly engaging, and the lyrics are not particularly memorable, much of the time spent listening to Plaster Hounds is waiting to wade through the murky swamp of drum and bass to find a snatch of a melody.

Though not in abundance, the melodies are here. Compared to the rest of the album, "Garden" is an out and out rocker. The second song on the album is lyrically twisted ("In the garden / I like a chrome rat / A Shiny tailbone / And a poached beak") and brimming with urgent guitars, but it's unfortunate that this song doesn't set the pace for the rest of the album. "Three Hearts (WASP)" is a percussion-led, funk throwdown that will have the most jaded hipster grooving and should have !!! looking over their shoulder. However, much of the album is spent taking soulless journeys into ominous post-punk territory. Tracks like "Jesus" and "Monarch" are so weighted in their intentions that they create an emotional vacuum. It is somewhat interesting that the track offering the most fun on Plaster Hounds is the Silver Apples' cover. "Program" is incessantly fun, melodically inventive and intelligent. Closing the album with a track that is polar opposite of everything that came before it is puzzling. Are the Chromatics sending a musical middle finger to their fans, or finally deciding to let loose and have a little fun?

Plaster Hounds is the second confrontational post-punk album to emerge this year. Unlike Liars' equally funny and brilliant effort, the Chromatics' seems to be running through the motions. There are moments when Plaster Hounds offers flashes of a band stepping beyond their influences, but they are few and far between. If anything, Plaster Hounds is the work of a band in transition.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.