Federation X: Rally Day

Josh Berquist

Exactly who is Dirty Bill and why doesn't he seem to give a damn?"

Federation X

Rally Day

Label: Estrus
US Release Date: 2005-07-12
UK Release Date: 2005-07-18
Amazon affiliate

Looking over my notes on Federation X's Rally Day, I came across a scrawl seeming to read "good but fucked". Deciphering this more accurately as "good but flawed", I quickly decided that my first interpretation was much more accurate. Rally Day is a crazed concoction of syrupy Sabbath grooves and hardcore harmonies equally engaging my metal adolescence and my indie-yuppie adulthood. All at once ferocious, funny, heartfelt, and stone heavy it could and should have transcended enjoyably engaging to entirely engrossing. Impeding this ascent is the band behind the album and their ham-it-up and half-ass-it aesthetic.

Federation X puts their worst face forward on Rally Day. Unforgivably atrocious, the cover art of orange and black pseudo-psychedelic squiggles looks like a Halloween art project hurried out by a crabby eight-year-old in need of a nap. Crack the case and there inside is a mess of more doodles along with illegibly scribbled liner notes, low-resolution image manipulations, and a block of lyric fragments strung together into an incoherent jumblefuck. Such a deplorable lack of art direction almost makes peer-to-peer files the preferred format for the album just to avoid the whole contemptuous wreck.

That may be for the best though as the music amidst all this detritus is really better off apart from the album art that disgraces it. Sounding something like a country-fried Jesus Lizard with a head full of weed, Federation X has always turned out an alluring amalgamation of southern swagger, mosh stomp, and stoned spaciousness. Rally Day rides that groove to a new destination laying down hooks and harmonies just as heavy as the dropped-down, guttural, guitar throttle inducing them. Sacrificing none of their edgy intensity, the band redirects that inertia into throbbing pop.

Avoiding the extended jams of prior efforts, the songs on Rally Day follow a direct trajectory saving up any self-indulgent riff-fetish drudgery for the seven minute album closer. Even this track benefits from band's newfound affinity and aptitude for melody. The honey-thick guitar hook drips amber like the opening licks of Lynyrd Skynrd's "Tuesday's Gone" as the Federation strain their throaty barks into a mid-rangey tenor. Even if not exactly mellifluous, their achingly earnest voices are well-suited to the band's lyrical shift away from macabre Americana to plaintive emotional appeals. On "Pale Afternoon" they bemoan "If I should choose to put / all that I have into you / I better learn how to lose" while "Hydrogen Nitrogen & Bullshit" makes the ingratiatingly desperate declaration "God damn this whole frigging world and everything in it but you, Carlotta".

Accentuating all this is an admirable aversion to monotony. Each song establishes its own identity through memorable moments or subtle variations. The chorus for "Nightmare Nation" blows up big while the drums on "Rally Day" drive the song along with relentlessly flawless fills. "Hydrogen Nitrogen & Bullshit" is propelled and punctuated by the gurgling squawk and squeal of a damaged amp while "The Most Unlucky Sound" gets a wash of analog synth shades. Tempos throughout shift enough that some songs rollick and roll, others truck and trudge, but all of them most definitely rock.

This all makes for a record of rather broad appeal. Hipster heshers will lose themselves in the slabs of stoner metal and the intensity of early Clutch. The punks will appreciate the arms-length distance at which the band keeps itself from outright metal. Meanwhile the indie kids can shuffle along to something that sounds like a drunken mash-up of The Kings of Leon to Death From Above 1979. For the critics there's the thought that this is the sound of Oneida locked away with only their amps and drummer. I'm even tempted to suggest an amphetamine-fueled Black Mountain but the Coldplay connection to that collective implies a level of passivity entirely inapplicable to Federation X.

Of course that comparison would also suggest a level of professionalism which is regrettably irrelevant to Federation X. Beyond the crap packaging there is the other problematic issue of the album's sub-basement-tape fidelity. As good as the songs may be they are oftentimes obscured by a hissing haze of guitar spit. Much like my scratched out album notes, it often takes some discerning to really appreciate these songs as they really are. Complexities and textures are regrettably buried by a backslide in production values that serves as quite the contrast from the auburn sheen of the Steve Albini produced X Patriot.

This could and should have been a better and bigger record than it is or ever will be. My mind is fraught with fantasies of how unfuckwithably awesome Rally Day would be if it had James Murphy behind the boards and DFA's design team doing the sleeves; I like to think of it as Murphy's twin guitar and no bass retort to DFA79, countering all their sexual bravado with the soul burning gusto of Federation X. Then again, Federation X is a band who credits its members with the names Zorbatron, Bambooza, and Dirty Bill. It appears that Rally Day is plenty good enough for them as is and they really couldn't care what any one else may think of it. As admirable as that approach may be, sufficient just doesn't quite cut it when superlative was so readily attainable. Good but fucked is fine, but fucked good would have been better.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.