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Coachwhips - Double Death

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Artist: Coachwhips

Album: Double Death

Label: Narnack

Review date: Jul. 18, 2006

The Coachwhips always sounded like a fight: cheap keyboards tussling with guitar to fill the high end; vocals struggling to be both heard and obscured; an urge to confine the songs to two chords without sounding like an art project. When they broke up last year, before becoming too prolific, it seemed both appropriate and calculated. There wasn't much they could do to build on their sound without moving outside the two-minute bashers they'd perfected. They’d made three albums, each with a slightly different feel, getting sharper and crunchier as they moved along, trading guts for rush. The earliest stuff was closest to 1960s garage, power chords up front. On later tracks the fuzztones got snowier, devolving to noise with the beat pushed to the foreground. But hearing those distinctions required some effort. A casual listener would probably just hear the White Stripes played over speakerphone.

Here's the epilogue: the requisite b-sides and comp track anthology coupled with a DVD of similarly lo-to-medium-fi live vids. The video goes a long way towards explain why their sustained assault remained enticing with so little variation. John Dwyer's microphone-eating vocals gain something when witnessed. Mic between his teeth, feedback spills out when he tilts his head just so. His furious strumming shows that while the music frequently was a whiteout, the rhythm behind it was solid. They weren't tight, but boy could they roll. The audiences range from living room parties to crammed clubs, and when they inevitably surround the band, Dwyer & Co. somehow step up the focus. Their sound was about managing chaos just enough to hold a song together, and the crowd adds another layer to the challenge.

The CD, by virtue of spanning a few years, has more variation in it than the previous full-lengths. There's no track that tops the highlights of the previous three, but it's got plenty of strong moments. And that it sustains itself through 25 songs is a feat unto itself. The ruptured chords keep crashing, the mic keeps squealing, but somehow they keep finding variation. The shifting conditions of the recording give each distorted roar its own tone. The disc closes out with their covers-only incarnation, the Roachclips. The Kinks, Adam and the Ants and the Velvets get forced through the shredder, and they manage to rough up even a Gories song. For a band who were satisfied with any given track sounding like an outtake, this set could be as defining a statement as they'll get.

At the tail of the DVD, there's some footage of them from Toronto's Silver Dollar Blues Club, playing for a half-seated crowd that looks like it was expecting George Thorogood. They're in a one-chord breakdown, and Dwyer hops on the kickdrum, balancing and pounding away in front of a mural of Muddy Waters. Eventually, a clubgoer grabs the mic, says something that sets the off the drummer, and a fistfight breaks out. Dwyer doesn't stop, playing his guitar out at arms length like animatronic Chuck Berry. Finally, he clocks the guy over the head. And it looks like it hurt, bad. They label the track "Holyshit,” as if they didn't know they were asking for it.

By Ben Donnelly

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