Social Rust–PC Worship’s fourth full length and first with Northern Spy/Dull Tools–begins with two screams: an animated horror-flick female shriek, only to be subsumed and mocked by Justin Frye’s sardonic, “Yeeeeah!” “Odd”, the album opener, is already astray from PC Worship’s previous material. Cleaner in production and heavier in feel, “Odd” has just enough dissonance and dark idiosyncratic pulse (like The B-52s from hell) to make it clear that PC Worship is unafraid to look both back and ahead; Social Rust is the Queens-based band’s examination of its own history and the history of the city where they live. But in this case, examination doesn’t mean imitation, and PC Worship speed past their previous albums through the Lower East Side on their best album to date.
Although it’s probably thrown around a lot, the Lower East Side is an inevitable and unavoidable reference to make. The moaning, sliding strings of “Rust” seem to have their roots in the No New York sound, Justin Frye monotonously delivering stark spoken word atop a single driving power chord. It drones and seduces like an unexplored landscape or abandoned building, never quite reaching a climax, before falling off back into the strings’ siren cry. It’s a complete turn from PC Worship’s previous albums, which could all fall under the “psychedelic” blanket. If Social Rust is psychedelia, it’s laced with heroin and heard through the ears of a sociopath. It does come close to psychedelia at times though: nestled in the middle of the Soundgarden-like march of “Behind The Picture” is a noise freakout worthy of your favorite late-60s band. But reducing Social Rust to one easily-identifiable genre would be missing the point–despite aspects of psychedelia, Social Rust is a beast unto itself.
There’s something always slightly wrong about the album, something voyeuristic about it, whether you’re witnessing something you shouldn’t or witnessing something second-hand or being witnessed yourself. “I wonder what I do/Seeing what I see/I look at everybody/Looking at me,” Frye sings on “Baby In The Backroom”, simultaneously the gazed and the gazer, helplessly assuming both roles. In doing so, we also assume those roles over the course of the album. Split into three sections, the first third of the album seduces us into PC Worship’s way of seeing, the second third we see as PC Worship sees, and the last third PC Worship stare back at us, inducing discomfort and unrest. The shortest of the last three songs on Social Rust is six-and-a-half minutes long, and though it’s a trial to get through, those final songs are among the most staunchly original and tactile on the record.
“Paper Song (Dig)” is a construction site on record. That’s not to say it sounds “industrial”–rather, it sounds like scratching at the earth feels, unrelenting over its six-minute runtime towards nothing. And PC Worship find nothing in the eight minute “Public Shrine”, slamming down on dispersed drums and attempting to fill the void with dissonant vocals, saxophones, and guitar cracks. It’s lyricless because it doesn’t need lyrics, atonal because it doesn’t need tone. How else are you supposed to drive cracks into the blank wall? On Social Rust‘s sludge-y closer, “First Wave Back”, PC Worship do just that: wave back at the album that came before the song. Reminiscent of the darker realm of 70s rock’n’roll, “First Wave Back” rambles on through a headbangable minor chord progression, guitars flirting with solos and saxophones wailing all about. In the midst of all this is Frye, lamenting, “If I just keep flowing through life/Like blood in a drain.” PC Worship are slipping through the holes into something else, though that something else is uncertain.
Social Rust finds its strength in the enigmatic air it emits and the darkness it evokes. Although the tone of the record is muddled at times (from the sarcastic-sounding “Odd” to the introspective “First Wave Back”), Social Rust is PC Worship at their very best, even if their best is dissonant and unsettling, voyeuristic and creepy, maniacal and rapturous. Maybe it’s a reflection of the times, or maybe it’s just a good record. Either way, listen to it and lose yourself a little.