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Saccharine Trust - Paganicons CD (album) cover


Saccharine Trust

Eclectic Prog

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3 stars This EP was Saccharine Trust's first release, and indeed one of the first releases on the legendary SST label. Like their contemporaries the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust were a punk band that tried not to be a punk band - they followed the example of early Wire and subverted the form and changed it into something that was theirs. While this EP will have limited appeal for prog fans due to its fairly rough musicianship and recording quality, it's actually one of my favorite albums of all time. It's a strange beast. The vocals (by Jack Brewer) are a strange animalistic nasal growl, barking lyrics that are unusually literate and phonetically striking. The guitar (by Joe Baiza) sounds downright amateurish compared to the levels of jazzy mastery he would reach in just a couple of years, but it's still clear that he's trying for something other than just bashing out bar chords - his sound is brittle and dissonant, kind of like Gang of Four but without the swing; very angular and harsh. Bass and drums (Earl Liberty and Rob Holzman respectively) keep things simple most of the time, but sometimes kick into some start/stop rhythms that add to the album's excitement considerably.

"I Have..." opens the EP with a relatively complex arrangement, driven by nonstandard guitar chords chiming over a hammering beat, and a brilliant lyric dramatically intoned by Brewer, about the chauvinism of American recorded history (see? this stuff is smart!). "Community Lie" is musically similar, with a dramatic structure whose musical shifts deftly mirror the dramatic lyrics - this time about a woman condemned by her peers by the double standards of sexism. The "courtroom" scenery of the lyric is a brilliant device, and it's sung from the point of view of a juror, calling his own judgmental ways into question even as he rationalizes his position by concluding with "it was justice". "Effort to Waste" is more abstract, offering images of sickness and pain in between shards of dissonant guitar chords over another charging beat. "Mad at the Co." lasts less than a minute, and it's a brief spit in the face to that day job you hate; the music plays like one long angry riff, very Minutemen-like. "I Am Right" closes side one with a simple fist-shakin' "anthem". Probably the weakest track.

"We Don't Need Freedom" opens side two with the fairly bold (certainly "un-punk") statement that we aren't worthy of freedom because we just waste it on stupidity anyway, and secretly prefer the "comfort" of having your decisions made for you. Musically, it's not one of the better numbers. "Success and Failure", however, is. This one shuffles quickly through a tricky rhythm where bass, drums, and guitar all add something different to create a unique sound. I'm not sure what the lyric is about though. Finally, we have the epic length (5 minutes!) "A Human Certainty", a truly terrifying piece of ugliness. Opening with a long instrumental section, Baiza sets the tone and works his way into a piercing guitar figure before Brewer comes in sounding like Mr. Doctor from Devil Doll, with lines worthy of a horror movie. In the dissonant outro to the song, Brewer moans and shrieks like a man with intestinal parasites, then saying "I'm okay now" and continuing with a more sober recitation that suggests he's just waking up from a bad dream and analyzing it. Chilling stuff.

Bottom line: this is a punk album on a prog site, so take that as you may. The band would soon get a new rhythm section (with drummer Holzman going on to form the excellent Television-like band Slovenly) and incorporate more jazz elements into their sound, with Baiza in particular adding immense sophistication to his playing. But this is where it all started, and it's a strikingly original and lyrically sophisticated punk album from the dawn of the American hardcore renaissance. On my personal scale, I'd give this five stars, but for this site I think it's good for a solid 3.

Report this review (#1141526)
Posted Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars An undisputed classic of LA punk, this sits as one of the first post hardcore records, and the start for one of the few bands to end up melding prog and punk. Saccharine Trust went for a rough, dark take on hardcore, much like what Flipper and Rites of Spring would eventually do to equally great effect, but ST also went for complex arrangements indebted to prog, which would only otherwise be matched by Greg Ginn's guitar work on Black Flag albums from "My War" on. Through the haze of the raw, cheap production rises a dour, angry pack of guitar, bass and drums, played proto-math, as Joaquin Brewer lays out his truth. Much like krautrock klassic "German Oak", the tinny production only adds to the effect of the jagged, crazed, pitch dark playing. Like Wire on "Pink Flag", the band almost always plays short bursts of experimental energy, their unique style getting thrown at an unsuspecting world in bite sized pieces. Everyone plays their part well, and we are left with a masterpiece of doubly experimental punk. There is a reason this launched the rest of post hardcore, the '80's half of post punk, Cardiacs, and the first emo, and it is the same reason this has long been a favourite of punks, music aficionados, and even Kurt Cobain: this is experimental, one of a kind, and excellent. Highly recommended to punks, pronk fans, and the adventurous.
Report this review (#1322626)
Posted Wednesday, December 10, 2014 | Review Permalink

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