As a music geek, nothing is more frustrating than discovering a new favorite band after they've already imploded. Even worse is when that band only ever manage to record one or two albums before dissolving, never getting an opportunity of fully realize the potential that they'd shown. It's frustrating to me at least because I love hearing a band's evolution more than almost anything else. Hearing a collection of people reconfigure, streamline and twist their sound as they make their way from album to album is the most interesting thing to witness in music, and when there's no chance for that to happen it leaves me let down in spite of the quality of the material that was left behind.
I've gotten used to encountering that situation when I'm delving into prior decades, but anytime it happens with a band who debuted this decade it strikes me as much odder. I realize that especially when it comes to the early decade it's a likely outcome given how few bands make it to 5 years together let alone close to 10, but it still feels wrong for a band who only started off this decade to have already shuffled off to Buffalo, especially if they did it after only one proper album and even more so if that album was among those I would consider for this list.
Long story short: I wish there were more Faraquet and Stereobate albums to sink my teeth into. These two won't be the last one-album wonders to get the spotlight shone on them - hell, tomorrow's entry fits this mold as well - but they're the two that seem most complimentary to each other. Both bands are tied to the DC scene on some level, both traffic in heavily angular post punk with math-rock shadings and both put out what I would rank among the best debut albums of the decade. Outside of those vague similarities though you've got two very different animals; Faraquet were Fugazi by way of King Crimson, leaning heavily on proggier touches and more varied instrumentation than on full bore aggression, while Stereobate were Girls Against Boys by way of Tortoise and Fugazi, leaning as much towards lengthy soundscapes as they did towards just plain rocking out. You'd never mistake them for each other, but there's enough superficial similarity to make for an interesting compare-and-contrast.
I'll start with The View From This Tower since there's more information available there. Faraquet was formed by Devin Ocampo, who drummed on under the radar DC art-punks Smart Went Crazy's majestic swan Song Con Art, along with SWC guitarist Jeff Boswell and drummer Chad Molter. As SWC were in the midst of imploding the trio was touring alongside them and making a slight buzz with a pair of 7" EPs and a split with Milwaukee quirk factory Akarso (all of which were recently collected on Anthology 1997-98, which came out last year). The View From This Tower was their lone full length, but Molter and Ocampo reunited in 2004 for an album and an EP as Medications (not heard those as of yet, so can't say where they fall sound-wise.) Despite their ties to SWC, Faraquet's sound has little to do with the band 2/3rds of their ranks were drawn from. For one, the three members of Faraquet don't seem to have set roles or even preferred instruments. Aside from the colour instruments that are added to key tracks, the members will occasionally use atypical variants on normal instruments to give tracks a different feel, such as baritone guitar and piccolo bass. It makes for a much more variable sound than the rest of their DC brethren, and a much more exciting one at that.
It's not that all the songs on The View From This Tower lie in different genres, but more that they show just how loose the definition for a genre can be. Most often I see them tagged as post-hardcore or art-punk, but those tags only tell half the story. Depending on the track you could easily call out as diverse influences as Dog Faced Hermans, (the brief, trumpet punctuated "Song for Friends of Me") bluegrass, (the banjo-aided breakdowns of album highlight "Study in Complacency") King Crimson, (the proggier touches that pop up on a lot of tracks) post rock, (closing instrumental "The Missing Piece" could be a sketch for a Do Make Say Think song) and yes, even their DC forebears Fugazi ('Cut Self Not") and Smart Went Crazy ("Conceptual Separation of Self"). It all fits under the umbrella of post-punk, but the variety that they show over the short (only 37 minutes) run time of the album is pretty staggering. Even within songs there's plenty of jarring left turns and tangents to keep things interesting, and even the weaker tracks are replete with interesting ideas even if the don't quite come to fruition. I suspect that if they'd managed a second album my praise would be much more effusive than it is here, all the more reason to be miffed at it's absence.
Stereobate, on the other hand are a bit of an enigma. All I know about the band is that they preceded their lone full length, Selling Out in the Silent Era, with an impossible-to-find EP and followed it up with a split with Brooklyn math-rockers The Distance Formula. I know that Selling Out was produced/engineered by Girls Against Boys leader Eli Janney. I don't know how many people are in the band or who they are, let alone what projects they went on to after this. I do know that Selling Out in the Silent Era is a great slice of post-punk/rock though, and sometimes that's all that's necessary to know. Maybe the fact that the album is such an enigma is part of its charm...knowing so little about who made it and what their backgrounds or futures were gives it an aura of singularity, making it seem like a true one-off rather than a part of a larger puzzle if you will. I'd still love to know what the guys(/girls?) in the band went on to if there is anything, but not knowing is kind of nice as well.
Like View, Selling Out has quite a bit of variety between its tracks, but it's to a much lesser degree. No song sounds quite like the one before it, but there are songs that cover the same ground on the album. For instance, "Here, Bass" and "Jerry Jones" are both heavy on the punk side of the equation, "The French Letter" and "Club Med" both tread in post-rockier waters, "When Radio Came" has it's toes in both camps and closers "TLT and "False Porno Alarm" add a bit of feedback-drenched quasi-shoegaze to the proceedings. The result is slightly disjointed as far as flow goes, but the songs are pretty uniformly excellent. Even the ones that reside in the same sonic space have different enough takes on it that they rarely feel inessential ("TLT" being the lone exception, though that has more to do with how good "False Porno Alarm" is than anything else.) For instance, "Here, Bass" and "Jerry Jones" are both moderately lengthy post-punk akin to Girls Against Boys minus the sexiness, but the former smokes along with a relentless drum pattern while the latter grooves until the chorus switches to 6/4 and adds a level of discomfort to the proceedings. The two post rock numbers do a similar thing, with "The French Letter" hitting on a more melodic level and "Club Med" relying more on groove and crescendo. It makes the band's sound harder to pin down since they're equally adept at both sides, but it provides the album with enough variety to keep the listener interested.
Coming up tomorrow: Three Texas boys make a concept album about the rapture, make it pretty and don't go overboard with the religion.