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The Functional Blackouts - The Severed Tongue Speaks for Everyone

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Artist: The Functional Blackouts

Album: The Severed Tongue Speaks for Everyone

Label: Dead Beat

Review date: May. 30, 2008

The Functional Blackouts played one of the loudest, most abrasive sets I've ever seen at SXSW, easily holding their own on a more-than-solid Saturday night bill at Beerland, with the Observers, Clorox Girls and Guitar Wolf. Even the soundcheck was painful, guitar amps turned up to ice-pick-to-the-eardrum levels, kick drum vibrating uncomfortably around the kidneys. When they started to play, it was, of course, even louder, an enveloping, transporting kind of aggression that every punk band aspires to and almost nobody accomplishes. The big song, "Tick Tick Tick Tick," was more or less the audio equivalent of a flame-thrower, fast and unrelenting, burning up everything within a three-yard radius and, all in all, sort of brilliant. My ears were ringing for days afterwards, and I couldn't listen to anything on headphones without pain for at least a week. The bottom line: the Functional Blackouts live at the extreme of noisy and confrontational. They are not afraid to hurt you if that's what it takes to get your attention, and they don't care if you start to cry.

The Severed Tongue Speaks for Everyone is kind of a surprise, since this Chicago band just recently announced its break up with the singles and rarities compilation, The Very Best of the Monkees. Dr. Filth et al apparently intended to go out like a 300-pound opera star, struggling to their feet after every death-throe chorus for one more round of applause. But leave them to it, because Severed Tongue is a good one, full of rage and spite and aggression, and absolutely without subtlety.

The album starts and ends with pure blasts of unadulterated noise, the one-minute "Heavy Breather" sounding like the inside lane at the Indy 500, the closing "Heavy Breather" just the same but 44 minutes longer. In between these cuts, though, you'll find 12 slamming, Germs-nasty, punk-rock anthems, one over four minutes, two others crossing the three, but the vast majority in that hard-shocked, ADD-afflicted one-to-two minute range. It's class of 77, (Pistols family, not the Clash) but dirtier, faster, more metallic, its anthemic eruptions of alienation, stuttered, battered and hammered into the ground.

Not surprisingly, the short songs are the best ones. "Stab Your Back" blasts a caveman primitive, group-shouted, drum-whacking chorus of "Back! Back! Back! Back! Back!..." for a little over a minute. The guitar careening, spit-flecked "I'll Be Famous (When I'm Dead)" lasts just under two. And the surf-guitars-on-amphetamines, metal-howling "Terrorist Vacuum" would be too much if it persisted four or five minutes. At 1:25, though, it's just about ideal.

"Kamikaze!" though somehow makes 2:39 minutes feel like a single sock to the gut. Its careening jet engine noises feed into a Twilight Zone thicket of guitars, its "K-K-K-K-Kame-kazi" refrain seems invented for fist-pumping anthem. It's the best song on the disc, but just by a hair. There's not much let-up in energy, track to track, except for the long instrumental freak-out at the end.

So be careful if you see the Functional Blackouts. Bring ear plugs. Wear old clothes. Stand in the back. Try not to catch anyone in the band's eye. And if you can't work up the courage to get to a show, there's always Severed Tongue, dangerous enough on its own terms, but hardly likely to send you to the hospital.

By Jennifer Kelly

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