Toph's Semi-Annual Award for a Great New Jersey Based Band He's Friends of Friends With
By Christopher Alexander | 16 December 2011
Dark Energy EP / Summer of Indifference
(Don Giovanni; 2011)
Miranda Taylor: drums. J Nixon: bass. That rhythm section has been in tact since 2000, first with Jersey bar-pop sensations Planet Janet (yeah, that name; I caught them a handful of times in their heyday, and can’t say I dug it), then with the supremely weird and awesome Hunchback. The latter band was an ugly, malformed, utterly unique melange of New Brunswick basement punk, Neil Young, horror core, actual late ’80s grunge, twee pop, and proto industrial bound either by sheer centripetal force or hatefuckglue. There is no reason that band should’ve worked; that rhythm section made them one of the most thrilling live bands I have ever seen, local, national, before or afterward. Failing to write about them for this site remains one of my deepest regrets.
Small wonder, then, that Black Wine, the duo’s new band with Taylor’s husband Jeff Schroek, are as monstrous as they are on stage, for having been together so briefly. (Schroek is an alum of frequent Hunchback tourmates the Ergs!, a pop punk band whose popularity in the Fest! world far outshone that of Hunchback.) Black Wine doesn’t go so much, if at all, for chaos. They’re fascinated with the 1990-era Alternative Nation, all Mark Lanegan and J Mascis chord changes and worn copies of Bleach, but they also believe, gloriously, in the riff. Schroek spreads his legs in the proper Hetfieldian pose; Taylor’s bass drum is the size of a compact car; Nixon has a mustache. They were headlining right out of the gate as much for their strength as their musical pedigree, and good thing too. I imagine they’re gut-wrenching to follow.
The band has a ready-stamped identity, but it’s yet to quite gel on wax. Last year’s self-titled album featured some excellent songs that sounded like three EPs thrown on random, Taylor’s instantly memorable pop hooks (had I a ballot, “Haunting” would have topped my year-end song list) weren’t quite as seamless as Schroek’s knottier, more pounding material. Nixon, meanwhile, sang about cockroaches. Summer of Indifference goes a long way at establishing more of a coherent vision—this time it’s Taylor who supplies the slippery riffs with opener “Spit to See the Shame,” and closer “Maycrowning,” while Schroek tries some melodicism of his own via “Ocean Skin,” his homage to the Meat Puppets, but the songs are less immediate. Nixon, meanwhile, steals the album: “End of Days,” “Hand,” and “No Seasons” are stunning, lyrical blends of the influences that Taylor and Schroek seem to be warring with. Still, they’re only three of them, and the band’s democratic approach to equal songs per songwriter occasionally trips up the flow of the album. The neophyte’s best bet is the Dark Energy EP, a three song single that contains the band’s best song yet (Schroek’s “Pick at Pieces”) and, due to the brevity of its format, is the best translation of the band’s bracing live act.
They’re all really good, though, so buy them.