Single Frame

Body/End/Basement

(Volcom; 2005)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

Single Frame’s Wetheads Come Running (2002) kicked out the post-punk jams. Three talented kids sandwiched Fugazi, Oingo Boingo, Les Savy Fav, Modest Mouse, Public Enemy, Mogwai and whatever other disparate influences they could get their hands on, and they did it all with a keen ear for hooks and having a good time. It sounds like one of those former glory stories, but Single Frame are a far too young and promising band for that sort of treatment. Body/End/Basement is far too disappointing, though, to escape a little chiding. It’s not an “oh, you didn’t make the team” sort of thing, either. This album lets down viciously, like a pregnant junior high princess or a son making cocaine his Ivy League study. These kids should be bright enough not to want to screw themselves over. Gee, do they screw away, though.

The Burn Radio Airtest EP (2003) hinted at the darker new-wave direction that Single Frame would downward spiral on, but it’s really no preparation for the dank blackness that’s pulled on Body/End/Basement, wherein our intrepid trio decide that melodies and songwriting don’t really mean a hell of a lot if you want to be the kind of band that rocks out in grimy 8mm music videos that take place in basements with swinging lamps. The same basement where the album was apparently recorded, mixed, and mastered. Engineers probably couldn’t see the meters.

Single Frame achieve a sort of cousin to Worlds Apart (2005), in which Trail of Dead wandered from the modernized daydream nation rock of Source Tags and Codes (2002) to what CMG collectively calls “Blink Floyd.” Body/End/Basement slides down a specialized artistic trajectory. New label Volcom likely handed Single Frame a gothy black serum: “Here, you can rope in the eyeliner demographic.” Serum ingested, the band’s more underground tendencies reacted violently, and their Mr. Hyde was released. No time for fully realizing songs now, Single Frame experiment haphazardly in their dungeon lab, crashing around and wrecking whatever progress they might make.

“Stuffed Animal Wall” works as an atmospheric intro to the album’s one standout track, “I’ll Lose Your Balance.” The serum’s just started stirring with the blood, and Single Frame’s sonic rampage bursts out in a focused blast of creepy keys, wicked guitar licks, and beaker-breaking drums. On this song the band teeters on the precipice and thereby reaches one of their peaks, nearly matching past indie rock triumphs like “The Slip” and “Comm. Jet.” The downhill immediately follows.

Aptly implying writer’s block, “New Blank Document” goes absolutely nowhere with a simplistic key line, and the chunky instrumentation of sure-to-be-Kelly-Osborne-fav “Culture Medium” slows down because it seems to have no other idea of what to do with itself. The music degenerates into a slough of pointless filler (“Lost Pines,” “Through the Wires”) and atonal squawking (“Exact Copy of This in the Basement,” “People are Germs”) that makes the rather tuneless “Flying Circus” feel like a breath of fresh Beatles air in comparison.

Another reprieve from the amateurish avant-thrashing comes with the softly synth-driven “Digital Witness” and “Underground @ Noon,” one of the only songs that recalls the smart song structures of Wetheads Come Running. Those few minutes of lucidity are quickly lost in a regression to piss-poor grime and noise before the last gasp of light-in-the-eyes with “Facts About Doors.” The album ends excruciatingly thanks to the grating delirium of “Tiny Whispers” and the death throes of “Make Yourself,” an orgiastic writhing out of shady emotions usually reserved for bands like My Chemical Romance and The Faint.

Even during its stronger moments, a cloying sort of Hot Topic gloom and angst pervades Body/End/Basement, and the music feels joyless, especially in comparison to the rambunctious Wetheads Come Running. An album full of songs like “I’ll Lose Your Balance” sure would rock, but it’d still lack the charm and heart of the band’s debut. Body/End/Basement isn’t even that album. It’s two-thirds noxious trash. Even so, there’s enough inspiration evident to give hope that maybe, just maybe, these kids will be alright.