Ed Schrader’s Music Beat makes raw, minimalist post-punk out of feverish chants, a manic tom-tom and the occasional bass note. A veteran of Baltimore’s Wham City collective, he started out as a solo act, just him and a drum and mic, before adding Devlin Rice on bass in 2009. Even now, even on record, there’s a strong whiff of performance art to what Schrader does, the live spectacle implied in whomping, ritual rhythms and a shout-sung delivery that is as much poetry slam as punk rock.
The full-length — if that’s the right word for a 20-minute, 10-song CD — builds on last year’s “Sermon”/”Rats” single, offering these two, plus a handful more, of adrenaline-rushing, hair-pulling flare-ups. “Rats” is the best, a drum-pummeling, spittle-spraying onslaught, but “When I’m In A Car” is not far off, as fast, as hard, as full of inchoate rage and aggression, as unexpectedly punctuated by arresting imagery (“When I’m in a car with you…I feel like we’re made of sound”). “Gas Station Attendent,” later on, pushes things into even faster and more chaotic territory — Schrader’s stuttering “ak-ak-ak-ak-ak” near the end of this cut sounds like a particularly feral nod to Volcano Suns.
These bristling, fever-tempo, angst-inducing cuts put Ed Schrader’s Music Beat in that corner of contemporary punk inhabited by No Age (Randy Randall plays some guitar on “When I’m In a Car) and Tyvek. Yet, that’s only part of the story. The other half of the tracks are slowed down, stretched out and left to fester in quiet. These cuts — “Gem Asylum,” “Do the Maneuver” and the double-wide “Air Show/Can’t Stop Eating Sugar” — are, if anything, even more disturbing. Here, Schrader’s cadaverous, echo-wreathed voice intones weird phrases at a measured pace (see “Gem Asylum”’s observation that, “Immaculate garrisons conjure my zeppelin / we will get our kingdom divided”). He continues to whack his drum as hard as it will go, but slower, making patterns out of thumps and long silences. The tension builds relentlessly, without the release of the faster songs.
None of it — not the fast songs, not the slow ones — would work if Schrader (and Rice, too) were not so wholly committed to the illusion he creates. You can feel him, almost, willing the elements of words, drums and bass to come together in a music that is more than the sum of its parts. You get the sense of a real, animating force at work here, a presence that relentlessly puts these songs across. Consider the lyrics, the beat, the music, all of it, a set of sails that hang limp until a gale force blows through them: that’s Ed Schrader’s Music Beat.