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Rank/Xerox - Rank/Xerox

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Artist: Rank/Xerox

Album: Rank/Xerox

Label: Make a Mess

Review date: Sep. 30, 2011

Strange, how a style of music worn out by a bunch of ninnies can be rejuvenated after a few years’ rest and a new perspective. That’s the basic story on this Rank/Xerox LP, the product of a young and determined band out of the Bay Area. There’re some bands that can make a few minutes seem like a lot to ask, yet I’ve been listening to this one daily and it seems like the half-hour it takes to unfold front to back folds time in half -- kind of like the premise behind that movie Event Horizon, but without the gore.

There’s some emotional violence here, though, or at least the shadows of it. Those sorts of shenanigans seem like a preface for Rank/Xerox’s slashing, discordant post-punk, revered by guys and even a few women during its painful descent in the past decade, when all the bands got more stylish and left Mr. Short Hair/Emo Glasses/Gas Station Attendant Jacket out in the cold, holding a mix CD with a bunch of Universal Order of Armageddon and Gauge tracks on it, and wondering why a nice guy like him can’t seem to meet someone to keep him warm. The good news is that Rank/Xerox doesn’t follow or perpetuate the stereotype, even as their music and direction grind away inside the husk of that not-so-lamented caricature.

Guitarist/frontman David West’s Perth-to-SF emigration is not without a musical precedent. He’s been sending in releases to Still Single for quite some time, in a variety of styles: caustic hardcore (Burning Sensation), lo-fi dream pop (Frank and the Can I Speaklys), 4-track introspection (Rat Columns), punk rotting from the inside out (Pauline Manson). The scope, the codified space between, and number of these projects might ring of dilettantism, but the rules of today have changed. Any way you can get it, that’s how you get it. I appreciate the hustle, to be honest, and wish more artists in his position could keep their projects as interesting. West locks down on the other mode of indie/DIY rock. You know, the mode that existed before garage rock dummed everyone down a few shades. Rank/Xerox wears well the abstract lyrics, the off-kilter rhythms, the tension-release dynamics, and the sense of brevity that’s been prevalent in this vector since Fugazi got started.

One could argue that not much new could be done with these ideas, and one might be right, but somehow these young men are distracting enough to run through these halls without so much as raising an eyebrow. “Cave Dweller” embodies the intent of so many forgotten acts within the boundaries of post-punk/post-HC, where a complex, carefully assembled discordant riff, and the area around it, is allowed to be a song in and of itself. Two-fisted rhythms cycle through in assembly line fashion as the dry, reedy stem of the song establishes the perimeter, just before West breaks the mold and spins into another interlocking pattern and engages in some stressful upper-neck guitar squeezing before the whole enterprise, a treatise on introspection, winds to a soft, pensive close. Many listeners will take notice at just how much he relies on a clean channel guitar tone, in essence creating a small sound in a big room and allowing the pieces to fall in place through manipulation of headroom and the mechanics of a rock trio. The other big standout, “Padek Man,” plays the slow creep mode to consummate perfection, as West and bassist Kevin McCarthy trade off lyrics and off-kilter phrasings about a mysterious, sinister human living in a disused space, real or of the mind, until its last minute, when the bass launches upward in tight circles, drummer Jon Shade kicks into fourth gear, and the whole outfit comes dangerously close to exploding right there in the studio. An understated recording, made with attention to detail by Eric Bauer and Ty Segall, frames all of the band’s elements in a very flattering, austere light.

I must admit that, had I never heard Rank/Xerox’s 2009 debut single, this full-length might resonate a bit more with me. From that release, the band made a strong case for being the second coming of Mission of Burma, running roughshod through several eras of punk and its antecedents, and reassembling them in a way that made sense. This full-length seems a bit too focused on capturing a more specific moment in the past post-everything aesthetic, in particular the more controlled-sounding chaos of late, lamented bands like Clikatat Ikatowi and Glorium. There are a couple of missteps, too, in particular the blocky, out-of-place closer “Turn to Stone,” in which the guitar is swapped out for an all-too-familiar synth preset, which sucks a good deal of the momentum out of the nine songs that precede it. But those are small gripes for a record that challenges some of us to remember from whence we came, without embarrassment or negativity, and with enough fire to remind us why we chose punk in the first place, or rather, let it choose us.

By Doug Mosurock

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