A second album from the Chicago no-wavers of X27 turns down the heat, slows down the pace, and finds forbidding melodies in squalls of noise.
Four years have passed between X27's razor-sharp debut Your Neu Favorite Band and the Steve Albini-recorded follow-up Antilove. During this period, core members Carmen X (bass and vocals) and Rikkeh Suhtu (guitar and vocals) seem to have refocused and refined their blistering no-wave sound, incorporating a bit more melody, lengthening the songs, and ever so slightly softening the welt-raising guitar attack. Consider the opener "Da-No-Do", with Carmen X singing quietly, wordlessly, almost to herself over a minimal guitar and drum cadence. She explodes, eventually, with the same sort of feral "Waoooh!" that buzz-bombed cuts like "Die Young", but there's no escaping the fact that this is a much less visceral, less in-your-face undertaking than anything on Your Neu Favorite Band.
Antilove is much more cleanly recorded than Your Neu Favorite Band, less abrasive, less distorted, parts kept in logical relationship to one another. Yet this very clarity seems to turn down the heat a bit. Even the noisy intervals of cuts like "It's All for You" seem polished and intelligible. There's no sense, as on the debut, of plummeting into swirling tornadoes of broken glass; in fact, in a lot of songs, there's at least a hint of songcraft -- verses, choruses, bridges emerging out of fractured dissonance.
Carmen X remains a very charismatic presence in X27's songs, sex personified as she murmurs, squeals, squirms and screeches. She'll remind you of Karen O., same timber, same girly theatricality, but a little less posed and polished. She's also the pop element in X27, to the extent the band has one. "Come on Down" is a dance song knocked sideways, body-moving rhythms split open by long bouts of feedback, X yelping and whispering and hollering like a young Lydia Lunch. "Inside-Out World" is twitchy and anxious, but unmistakeably rooted in melody. For the verse, X's voice is modulated, cool, and mesmerizing; when she lets things rip in the chorus it is all the more shocking for having come out of a relative calm.
Where Suhthu takes over on vocals ("Red Is Green", "Luna"), the sound turns sludgier, more distorted and dangerous. "Red Is Green", the album's most savage moment, layers male howls and agonies ("I've got no shadow / It's all a scam") over a slow-paced menace of drum and bass. Squalls of feedback erupt out of the crevices, and a bass solo, mid-cut, clanks ominously, like a ghost rattling chains.
The best cuts combine these two sensibilities, the noise and the pop, the cool and the hot. "Luna", primarily sung by Suhtu, is an uneasy truce between the band's two sides, creepy "la la las" colliding with an annihilating crunch of bass, no-wave guitar riffs caroming off the essential darkness of the piece. Yet there's no denying the drop in temperature even here. Your Neu Favorite Band was like a bath of boiling acid, intense and painful, but thrillingly alive. Antilove is a moonscape by comparison, chilling and alienated and abstract.