I have a problem and I’m not sure how to fix it: I’m in a musical
It seems like Athens, Georgia is experiencing quite a sea change as of late: Cinemechanica and guitarist Bryant Williamson’s fledgling label Hello Sir Records — also home to local favorites and soon-to-be superstars We Vs. The Shark — are single-handedly breathing new life into Athens’s notoriously fey musical tradition.
While Athens’s roots in the thoughtful alternative pop of R.E.M. and the Elephant 6 Collective — not to mention the up-and-coming Happy Happy Birthday To Me label — have come to define the city’s musical aesthetic, it is certainly refreshing to find Cinemechanica’s spiky brand of angular, guitar-driven post-punk coming out of what many have dubbed the Liverpool of the South.
Although Cinemechanica’s stock in trade is one I have heard before, the quartet’s energy is undeniable; over the course of a lean but incredibly dense 29 minutes, The Martial Arts crunches its steel toe boot on your esophagus and doesn’t let up until the final track fades out. Throughout the album’s nine tracks, the group never leaves a loose string untied, with each song using its space as efficiently as humanly possible.
The twin guitar onslaught of Andy Pruett and Williamson is what I would say makes Cinemechanica stand out among its peers. Their clear, tube-driven tones are sculpted to the nth degree, and more importantly, are reproduced perfectly on the album — almost as if Cinemechanica were playing right there in my living room (they actually did this past November!).The first three tracks are all keepers: “Pen,” “Antsinjapants” and
“Brain Tarp” all bristle with the oomph of an ADD-riddled teenager in desperate need of Ritalin and a glass of warm milk. But it is “I’m Tired of Paul McCartney” that has to be the standout track (and I’m guessing the hometown favorite since they recently made a video for it).
“Paul McCartney” steamrolls over lesser guitarists with an opening sidewinder riff worthy of both the final Contra level and its own Six Flags roller coaster. The riffs just keep on piling and the meter changes every four measures — and in less than 2:30, it’s total mayhem! With Pruett and Williamson’s guitars hammering out those metallic minor thirds, the entire production just makes me want to grab a broom and start wailing in front of my mirror. At 1:48, Pruett shouts out something unintelligible (his screaming often recalls that of Rick Froberg of Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes fame, only without his testicles jammed in a sieve) and after that it’s on like Donkey Kong (to use my friend Sean Padilla’s favorite expression).
While I commend Cinemechanica for sticking a track like “Take Me Out of the Hospital” (perhaps a reference to what happens when pregnant women and small children try to imitate the guitar carnage of “Paul McCartney”?) in the middle to bring things down a notch, I didn’t think it was as successful an attempt at an interlude as it could have been. At five minutes, “Hospital” meanders a bit (despite an interesting break at the 3:27 mark) and didn’t strike me as having as much purpose as other songs on the album.
Which brings me to my one major issue with The Martial Arts: I would like to see the group branch out a bit more on its next release — most of the songs are in the same key and follow a similar course (densely packed two or three-minute songs featuring riff after riff).
My qualms aside, The Martial Arts isn’t about wanton experimentation or diversity — it’s the goddamn guitar album of 2006! With unexpected twists and turns around every corner, each song pile-drives your carcass into a host of irresistible riffs and inventive changes. If you can hang on long enough, you just might enjoy the ride. Quick — somebody get the carnie!