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Artist: Mind Spiders

Album: Mind Spiders

Label: Dirtnap

Review date: Jan. 28, 2011

The twin guitar firepower of Jeff Burke and Mark Ryan was always what made The Marked Men’s attack-minded pop-punk stand out from the rest of the Dirtnap/Goner/Swami axis. So when Burke packed it up for Japan, it made unfortunate sense for the Men to go on an indefinite hiatus.

From that band, at least. It wasn’t long before quick solo one-offs from each of them surfaced. And while Burke’s project with Potential Johns remains dormant, Ryan has been nothing if not restless with Mind Spiders.

Restless is the operative word here. While a familiar cast of Denton characters from the likes of his old band, Wax Museums, and Bad Sports fill out the line-up, these songs are largely the product of Ryan, a 4-track, and a lot of time spent alone. The result is borderline rock schizophrenia that sacrifices cohesion for the sake of exploration. Which works out in the end, for the most part. Yes, you do end up with an unfortunate cover of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” but you also get Ryan’s most melodic and fully realized three minutes on “Going Away Tonite.”

As is to be expected with any side project, there is bound to be scrutiny over similarities with The Marked Men. The unexpected part is that Ryan not only opens himself up to it, but also uses his old band as an anchor for the rest of the album. Opener “Go!” is actually a Marked Men b-side that was left off Ghosts at the last minute. The least pop-oriented rocker here, it leans much more towards Danzig-fronted Misfits and Morris-fronted Black Flag hardcore, sustained by a jagged monolith of guitars that was long Burke’s and Ryan’s trademark. It’s also somewhat prophetic: “You want more / but I just can’t give it” they intone in the end, and the next 11 songs do just that.

What follows is a carving down of sound, thawing out the contours that have always made Ryan’s guitar work so compelling. There’s an immediate departure from familiar territory signaled by the cheesy superhero theme synth on “Don’t Let Her Go” and “Mind Spiders Theme,” which actually works remarkably well. Instead of encroaching on Blank Dogs turf like so many other bedroom bands, “No. 2” and “Your Soul” goes back further to the more chaotic DC Snipers.

The backward journey doesn’t stop with his contemporaries, either. “One Step Ahead” goes straight to the source for its British post-punk tendencies, but after that, it’s bubblegum all the way back to Buddy Holly. Though the better comparison for “No Romance” would probably be Nobunny. In much the same way that Justin Champlin filters early guitar legends through his figurative (and physical) mask of absurdity, Mind Spiders bends the classics into new shapes without breaking them.

The most ambitious — and addictive — song here is “Neurotic Gold,” which is as good a description as any for what’s on this record. Squealing synths and strange upper register guitar sounds ricochet off counterbalanced rhythms that spiral in on themselves endlessly. What you’re really hearing is the sound of Mark Ryan thinking out loud, through song. And even though this can be frustrating at times, it’s still plenty refreshing to get such an eclectic survey of what most reformed punks are taking for pop music nowadays.

By Evan Hanlon

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