Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Bridge Under Fire's Gluttons Before Grace on LP
Last week I was rummaging through the pile of LPs and CDs I have to review, and I discovered that I still had some quality Syracuse vinyl that I had yet to talk about. I've been in Syracuse since April, and I probably received the bulk of this music in May or June. And here it is, deep into February, and I can still go on and on about great local record labels around here such as L.R.S., bettyElm and Aux simply because I have a ton of their music unheard and spread out all over the place. I'm going to focus on the remaining vinyl this week. I promise.
Mark Turley of L.R.S. served as a wake-up call. He's been talking about the new album from his band, Bridge Under Fire, for the last few weeks. I reviewed a 7" EP from BUF for Perfect Sound Forever back in my June 2016 column "We Specialize in Vinyl," along with a handful of other L.R.S. releases. I wrote that "Bridge Under Fire's I Got a Guy for That offers a big healthy serving a lo-fi, hard-driving grunge that's recorded with the same minimalist approach as early hardcore--a tribute to the little record labels thirty years ago."
I was talking about SST, by the way. Listening to L.R.S. bands reminds me of some of my favorite bands from the now distant past.
I also noted BUF's propensity for funny song names. On the new LP, Gluttons Before Grace, you get a few more: "No I Don't Want to Hang Out with You, Now Bring Me to Taco Bell and Take Me Home," If Wishes Were Horses, I'd Have a Lot of Glue" and "Rhythm and Booze." So the familiar sense of humor from the earlier EPs is intact, but there's something deeper and more accomplished going on. There's a distinct feeling that Turley, who sings and plays guitar, got together with guitarist Chris Whitemore, drummer Steve Lowe and bassist Jeff Walker and said, "You know guys, we've been having a lot of fun playing these gigs and being kind of goofy on stage but I feel like there's something deeper we can explore."
As a result, Gluttons Before Grace is a surprisingly ambitious dollop of post punk despite a minimalist studio aesthetic. Mark's still a screamer, and on the surface that can seem at odds with the more complex musical themes such as the suite that encompasses "Prelude" and "Blacklisted at Hop Sings" and returns for the album's "Epilogue." Listen deeper, however, and you'll start to hear the anger that fuels many of these songs. On the aforementioned "Blacklisted," Turley sings "Make it all impossible to make anything creative and new/We need more big retail to sell all that bullshit to you." (Double Nickels on the Dime, anyone?) While those types of angry anti-establishment sentiments are touchstones to the origins of punk rock forty years ago, the band has the maturity to temper that rage with the realization that we're all older and we're all going to get sucked in to suburbia and we're all going to forget why we were so pissed off.
All of this starts to make sense when you add in the music. Turley's howl can make you think BUF is more hardcore than it is, but if you isolate some of the quieter passages you'll catch something more beautiful than you expected. Gluttons Before Grace is full of conflict, paradox and confusion, at the surface at least, but at its core is change. It's not about growing up or getting older as much as it's just about figuring it all out, and going with the flow as long as you can occasionally bash your head against a wall in frustration.
That's pretty impressive subtext for a local Syracuse band, but don't forget that Turley runs L.R.S. Records with Nic Oliver and those two guys have probably seen it all while dealing with the business side of the industry. And if you can run a record label and still put together a side band and release an album this good, then maybe it's all worth it.