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Single Frame - Burn Radio Airtest

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Artist: Single Frame

Album: Burn Radio Airtest

Label: Already Gone

Review date: Dec. 11, 2003

The recent EP Burn Radio Airtest from Single Frame (formerly Single Frame Ashtray) begins with the sound of a radio being dialed between stations; music and speech flicker in and out, until the dial finally comes to rest on the album’s title track. Musically speaking, the radio metaphor might have been more appropriate for the Austin trio’s 2002 debut, Wetheads Come Running: whereas that album was a full-speed-ahead race through innumerable genres and influences over a rather short running time (37 minutes), Burn Radio Airtest distills Single Frame’s sound to a more stylistically and conceptually consistent essence in an even briefer 17 minutes. The band has settled on a sound that, for better or worse, will probably be labeled as “dance-punk”. All the typical ingredients of that genre of the moment – repetitious analog synth riffs, angular guitar stabs, and shouted, half-spoken vocals (often heavily multitracked) – are prominent on the album. Even so, Single Frame are hardly jumping on the bandwagon; for one thing, they’re from Texas, something that separates them from the predominantly New York-spawned dance-punk crop, but more importantly, they lean heavily toward the “punk” side of the dance-punk equation, producing music that’s uncommonly driven and fierce for a genre commonly associated with superficial hipster-cool.

While Burn Radio Airtest’s first half flies by in fast and short bursts (with a maximum song length of around two minutes), the latter part of the album slows things down substantially, offering a more contemplative complement to the first five tracks’ manic pace. Two of the three songs comprising this latter half are electronically-oriented remixes that sample and rearrange bits from two tracks on Wetheads Come Running, rendering them more or less unrecognizable. While these tracks may first appear like filler or dead weight, particularly given their disproportionate length in contrast to the rest of the album, they fare better in juxtaposition with the shorter, more energetic tracks than they would on their own. The remix of “Eavesdropper Goes Solo”. is particularly striking in that it not only replaces all the musical elements of the original song with electronics, but also renders the vocals robotic and unintelligible. Here, and on the remix of “New Car Smell”, it’s as though Single Frame are acknowledging its own mutability. The remixes may not be as impressive as the sources from which they came, but they nonetheless contrast effectively with the album’s earlier tracks, as though the aggressive dance-punk sounds have been captured, sedated, and mechanized.

While Single Frame’s radio dial may change stations – from fast to slow, aggressive to introspective – the drastically differing stylistic approaches are, in the end, two sides of the same coin. The album closes in symmetrical fashion, reprising the radio motif from its beginning: against a slightly distorted drumbeat, a radio commentator speaks through layers of static about the government’s failure to guard against the danger of biological attack in the United States. The station changes, and the first voice is followed by another, whose only intelligible words are “100,000 Troops” (not incidentally, the title of the track), presumably a reference to American forces in Iraq. These tiny fragments of recorded speech reflect, at least to some extent, the state of the world, and hearken back to the title track’s repeated mantra “How could anyone like this?”

However vaguely, Burn Radio Airtest expresses a profound anxiety about the modern world, moving from aggressive questioning and confrontation (on the title track), to calm introspection (on “Eavesdropper”. with its nearly unintelligible refrain “The fact of the matter is I don’t feel fine”), and finally to passive, frightened listening, on the rather disturbing final track. And for a 17-minute EP, that’s pretty damn impressive.

By Michael Cramer

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