Something about Milemarker's previous album, Frigid Forms Sell, just never sat right with me. Actually, I should make that a couple of "somethings" -- the keyboard bugged me, for one thing, mostly because my particular keyboard preferences lean more towards that Moog sound used by folks like The Rentals or The Anniversary, and the arty titles and experimentation seemed just a bit too...well, arty. Beyond the minor stuff, though, my biggest problem with the disc was that it felt like two separate bands playing from track to track; on some tracks, the band would hit retro-New Wave bliss with the keyboards and Roby Newton's freaky Nico-esque singing, but then three minutes later, they'd be doing a by-the-numbers Fugazi impersonation (and really, I've heard enough bands like that lately to last me a lifetime). The hardcore shouting and the keys never seemed to gel, at least not to me, and it felt like the band was intentionally keeping the two sides of their musical personality distinct. That may work for some, but unfortunately, I'm not one of 'em -- I'm not big on music that sounds thrown together like that, one style haphazardly tacked onto another in Frankensteinian fashion (which probably explains my general aversion to skacore). Listening to Frigid Forms Sell was like listening to two EPs by two completely separate bands, and that's not exactly a good thing.
One album down the line, with the newly released Anaesthetic (the band's fourth), and I can kiss my misgivings goodbye. The elements of hardcore and New Wave synth-pop are still very much in evidence, but the members of Milemarker have apparently gotten more comfortable with their own particular sound, because this is a much more fully realized CD. From the start of "Shrink to Fit", it's immediately obvious that this album's more poppy than the last, but it still sticks true to their electro-rock ideal of making people uncomfortable with their music. And yes, "uncomfortable" is the word for a lot of Anaesthetic -- "Food for Worms", for one example, is an unsettling piece of orchestral rock, somehow managing to be both freaky and oddly beautiful at the same time (and even drifting vocally into Kate Bush territory).
The epic "Lost The Thoughts But Kept the Skin" hits a similar chord, beginning with a creepy, military beat and minimal piano and slowly building to a mess of lurching carnival noise, while the mantric "Ant Architect" sounds like Burning Airlines/Jawbox frontman J. Robbins screwing around in electrical engineering class. The band's press kit claims you can dance to this stuff, but I wouldn't place any bets on that; "Shrink to Fit" and "A Quick Trip to The Clinic" (which brings to mind fellow retro-electro-rockers The Faint, by the way) are both somewhat danceable, but I'd wager they're both still a bit too angular and jerky for most of you aspiring body-rockers out there.
Anaesthetic's overall sound is that of a very strange 1984-style sci-fi movie, simultaneously futuristic and human, paranoiac and dystopian yet hopeful. Closing track "The Installment Plan" is probably the best example of that idea on here, actually, meshing Newton's warbled, detached vocals with heavy synths (not quite Moogs, but thicker-sounding, at least), a Sonic Youth wall of guitar drone, and a melancholy story of displacement and loss. Listening back now to Frigid Forms Sell, I get the notion that maybe this was what Milemarker've been shooting for all along -- with Anaesthetic, however, they've hit the mark.