Imagine if, in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the visit to the subterranean workers' city revealed a sick and stark alternative to Maria's church meetings. The original's gathered believers, guided by faith while bowing their heads to their blonde, blue-eyed Mother Theresa, are instead bewildered and hungry animals. Once human, now they snap and bark in a crowded, violent mass with infinite and ignorant, unexplainable glee. And the pastor's new platform? No messiah. No answers. No mercy.
The scene will give you a good practice run for immersing oneself in the visceral vibes rampant on Pop. 1280's debut proper for Sacred Bones, The Horror. Armed with a new rhythm section, an even stronger stomach, and an especially inspiring performance from front man Chris Bug, Pop. 1280 are proven ready to take on all things grotesque, grimy, and grating and revel in the tragic humor of it all. A noticeable production overhaul via the multi-skilled hands of Ben Greenberg at Python Patrol (one of the studios' last records before the doors closed in August '11) is crucial – casting this endgames horror film in HD. It evokes that rare feeling of thinking “Step Into The Grid” sounds wussy and deflated (like listening to In Utero immediately after Nevermind)– but what really sells it, and what probably made Ben's job easier, is a gutsy performance from a cast of characters with serious chemistry. Alive with the kind of furious energy you expect from totalitarian regimes, they're ready to run the blood-stained streets (but I thought Chuds ran the city!)
The ruthless marching swagger of Zach Ziemann's trash-can-timbre drumming partners effortlessly with the cautious timing of Pascal Ludet's synths from outer space and in-your-face bass; the razor-sharp snake charming of Ivan Lip's angular guitar lines floats like a forcefield of rusty knives around a positively possessed (Reverend) Chris Bug. Bug has alluded to believing in a lyric-writing process that aims for simplicity and remains raw (oftentimes a euphemism for “last priority”) but his gravelly voice and its sinister tendencies accentuate the inherent filth and unlock the deeper details of his twisted animal metaphors and de-evolving torture victim dialog as though David Yow were delivering his first reading as poet laureate. “The thing about dogs is that they don't know what they're doing / I want you to beg like a human” is destined to double, in total infamy, as the most badass and most economical lyric of the year (don't care that it's only January), channelling humiliation, humor, malice, and mastery in one venomous couplet.
In the greater picture, there's a broader sense of narrative that's far more robust than the hollow-in-hindsight Event Horizon sci-fi aesthetic that was prevalent in Pop. 1280's work back when they were routinely called “cyberpunk.” This is shock and horror that is immediately relatable, if a bit dramatically demonic, by envisioning the small details, by appealing to the same paranoia we all have about a post-2012 Mad Max/Fallout land of anarchy and addressing the same questions. How far is too far when fusing sex and violence? What's happening to our brains in this overstimulated and under-educated state? What does it even mean to be alive? What separates us from animals in times of survival? And of course…”Whose gonna lead us by the hand?” Like true pranksters (or totalitarian regimes for that matter), these questions are rarely given answers, and we're left to wallow in the tense fire of ambiguity. And when there is an answer, it's usually delivered with a sick grin while we digest in a wide-eyed horror.