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Lamps - Under the Water Under the Ground

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Artist: Lamps

Album: Under the Water Under the Ground

Label: In the Red

Review date: Aug. 15, 2013

Lamps - “Under the Water Under the Ground”

Los Angeles’ Lamps balances on a knife’s edge between chaos and order. Most of the songs begin in big bruising bouts of feedback, whether white-noise obliterations as in the opener “Dogcatcher” or careering colorations of tonal mayhem as in the Fall-like “Irrational Fear of Sailors.” Out of this primal stew of skree emerges an almost comically disciplined one-two punk march, rigid boxy riffs that swing from one note to another like a pendulum and drums rhythms that slam every arm and leg down in unison, thwacking snare, cymbal, kick drum in squared-off, profoundly unsyncopated time.

Over it all, frontman, Monty Buckles slurs and mumbles his sideways lines. You catch a word or two at most, a line about blaming someone in Chicago in “Clouds,” a verse about a mother in “Famous Chimps” who may or may not have turned into a chair. There’s a Dada-ish playfulness in the song names (“Pigeon Guided Missiles,” “I’ve Been on a Lot of Camels”), but damned if you get beyond the titles to parse meaning or imagery. The words are barked, sneered, spit and insinuated into a hurricane wind of noise.

In a couple of places, most notably “Irrational Fear of Sailors,” a fuzzy melody nudges up out of the punch and aggression, threading through sawed-off, buzzing bass riffs and interlocking one-and-two-note guitar riffs. Adrenaline carries the rest of these tunes, pushing forward through murk and anxiety with a doomish, cocky kind of swagger. You can make a connection to A Frames in the artful upending of brute simplicity, to Clockcleaner in the lock-stepped march to apocalypse, but unlike these bands, Lamps rolls with an inebriated levity. There’s a cheeky humor in these up-down riffs. No matter how hard the notes are knocked down, they come back at you grinning like a punching balloon with a clown face painted on.

I’d put Lamps in the same general category as UV Race and Tyvek, bands that seem simple (almost retarded) until you spend some time realizing how subversive they are underneath. The straight, even-accented, four-four-ness of Lamps’ songs offsets continual explosions of volume and tone, so that you can’t tell, from moment to moment, whether these songs are rock solid or blowing apart as you hear them. And maybe that’s the thrill. Listening to Under the Water Under the Ground is like watching a NASCAR race where you pretend to admire the driver’s skill, but secretly long for him to hit the wall. Make the corner or crash in a fireball, it’s pretty exciting either way.

By Jennifer Kelly

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