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The Haul: Clikatat Ikatowi's Orchestrated and Conducted by Clikatat Ikatowi

Clikatat Ikatowi's Orchestrated and Conducted by Clikatat Ikatowi

I’d never heard of Clikatat Ikatowi before last year, when I was formally introduced to the group by my friend Charlie. There is an underlying logic to both sides of that sentence. Charlie grew up as a San Diego punk rock kid, so the importance and visibility of an art-punk group like Clikatat Ikatowi was exponentially greater there. In contrast, my knowledge of the ’90s San Diego scene emphasizes the bigger names and more palatable sounds of Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, and Heavy Vegetable, overlooking the more explicitly hardcore realm of Gravity Records. At the very least, I’d be able to pick names like Heroin, Mohinder, Indian Summer, and Antioch Arrow out of a line-up. But Clikatat Ikatowi? Even after typing their name three times in this paragraph I'm unsure about the correct spelling.

Charlie was right to recommend Clikatat Ikatowi to me, however, and I was smart to snare a copy of their 1996 debut LP Orchestrated and Conducted by Clikatat Ikatowi at Mystery Train. There’s no doubt this band came from the ’90s San Diego scene (with a member of Heroin, no less), but for every passage of caterwauling screamo, there’s a confident lull closer to the quieter moments of Jehu, Slint, June of 44, or Rodan. Drummer Mario Rubalcaba, later of Thingy, Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt, Black Heart Procession, and Earthless, is an absolute beast, levitating the frayed electrical wires coming from the guitars and vocals and preventing the whole apparatus from short-circuiting. There are ample doses of math-rock here, but unlike the rehearsed confidence of the recently reviewed Rockets Red Glare, those time changes often hit at breakneck speed. Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

Those moments of June of 44-ness (minus the nautical fetish) represent an unpredictability that keeps the album slippery even after a few spins. Two songs, “Desert Oasis” and “Transmission” (.mp3), stretch out past five minutes, while others pass out before hitting two minutes. Some songs are delivered with throat-killing screams, others pick up Slint’s mumbled speech. Sometimes the guitars throw notes at a dartboard, other times the riffs congeal into fist-pumping classics. Even after you’ve recognized the patterns, their execution betrays normal order. Hell, there’s harmonica in the middle of “Desert Oasis.”

Clikatat Ikatowi’s limited discography offers a manageable addition to your to-buy list. Along with Orchestrated, they released the eight-song 1998 LP River of Souls and a live album, Live August 29th and 30th, 1995 on Gravity Records. Given that member Ryan Noel (later of A.R.E. Weapons) died of a heroin overdose in 2004, reunion shows are out of the question, but fortunately, their records hold up without the context of a sweaty, all-ages punk venue.