Black Helicopter - "None Taken" (Don't Fuck With the Apocalypse)
Boston’s Black Helicopter is one of those rare bands whose music can be pretty accurately classified as “rock.” Not so much the specifics of the group’s styling (which might be closer to post-rock), but rather their general approach: it’s a disarmingly primitive one. On its latest, Don’t Fuck With the Apocalypse, the group plays driving, hyper-masculine, mid-tempo tunes essentially devoid of cynicism or pretense. The guitars are overdriven, but not overly so, the bass is clunky and brute, and the vocals are neither fuzzed-out nor reverb-laden. If this all sounds middle-of-the-road, it’s because it is. But it’s also earnest and unaffected in a way that contrasts sharply with many of Black Helicopter’s outré peers: not once on Don’t Fuck With the Apocalypse will one encounter lo-fidelity, noisy experimentation, or, really, any manner of trendiness.
What’s the catch, then? That there is none, which is at once refreshing and slightly disconcerting. Let’s start with the refreshing. The members of Black Helicopter are, first and foremost, great musicians, first-rate post-rock architects who manage an album’s worth of dark, angular vamps. Tracks like “None Taken” and “Class Action” marry Slint’s eerie plod with Shellac’s jagged assault, yielding a sound that is basic and accessible but also sufficiently nuanced. These guys are also clearly fans of early to mid-1990s slacker-rock; the first half of the album, especially, contains frequent nods to the likes of Grifters and Pavement (see “Golden Days,” especially).
But despite a knack for channeling those oft-lauded predecessors, Black Helicopter unfailingly sound exactly like themselves, that is, thirtysomethings who were probably really into grunge. And therein, lies the problem. While their straightforwardness is initially exciting, even jarring, upon the second or third spin the novelty begins to wane. Lyrically, the group runs into a similar problem: songs about war, cheap nostalgia and middle-class disillusionment may be charming in their bluntness, but a few tracks in and the verses feel, at best, platitudinous, and, at worst, completely wooden. On “None Taken,” lead vox Tim Shea sings “I guess I was never certain / Just how it was I’d fit in.” He’s trying to convey unease and alienation, but the line is too stilted and vague to evoke real emotion.
All in all, Don’t Fuck With the Apocalypse won’t disappoint, but it won’t do much of anything else, either.