ABOUT | PAST ENTRIES | BEST OF 00–04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 18 | E-MAIL | RSS | TWITTER

Reviews: Two Inch Astronaut's Bad Brother

Two Inch Astronaut's Bad Brother

Given my fondness for reunited ’90s indie rock bands and current bands influenced by ’90s indie rock, you might think I’m paralyzed by nostalgia for 1996, spending my days watching reruns of The Single Guy, flipping through my high school yearbook, and circling future purchases in the Touch and Go catalog. Unbelievable as it may be, this scenario is not accurate. Two key distinctions: first, I do not pine for my 1996 existence, a key aspect of nostalgia. No part of me wants to return to high school—I literally have nightmares about it happening. Second, with regards to the ’90s music mentioned above, I never stopped enjoying it. I’m not returning to a time when I listened to Chavez, Hum, and Girls Against Boys—I still listen Chavez, Hum, and Girls Against Boys. It’s not like I’m making playlists of the ’90s alt-rock hits that were shoved down my throat; the mere thought of “Brimful of Asha” beckons a cold sweat.

The closest I’ll come to being properly nostalgic is recalling my 120 Minutes routine. I’d stay up until midnight on Sundays to press record, rightfully distrusting the programmable VCR's ability to perform its advertised duty. When I watched the tape, I’d dub favorites like Girls Against Boys’ “Super-Fire” to audio cassette, where school-bus replays would encourage a trip to Circuit City or Media Play to purchase a CD that would, by fiscal necessity, receive almost exclusive attention for a few weeks. A tedious process, yes, but it was my primary method of learning about new music. Contrast that set-up with 2013, where recommendations are dumped on me on an hourly basis from a wide range of sources, music can be freely and easily heard, and new records become ancient within a week. The singularity of my 120 Minutes indoctrination tempts a rose-colored remembrance, at least until Matt Pinfield’s visage starts blathering on about the latest Oasis single.

The song that triggered this 120 Minutes flashback is “Blood from a Loyal Hound,” from Two Inch Astronaut’s Bad Brother. Its component parts project a low-budget video courtesy of Alias or Caroline Records on my wall—the ear-catching opening riff, the verse slow-down, the energy burst into the chorus, the falsetto hook, the passionate spike of its final refrain, and a careening-off-the-walls conclusion. While I can’t create a proper treatment for this hypothetical video without rewatching the clips for "Harnessed in Slums" and "Pat's Trick" all afternoon, here’s the pitch: it opens with a sped-up, possibly colorized version of a mundane day-job (copy shop or coffee house), switches to the band performing when the first verse starts, deftly jump-cuts between the practice space and the day job scenes, gets progressively weirder with the band's wardrobe in each space, then closes on them first performing in and then destroying their hated workplace. The video for "Blood from a Loyal Hound" might never make it into regular rotation or the beloved Buzz Bin, but it would certainly prompt my cycle of cassette dub / Media Play CD purchase / four weeks of singular rotation. Media Play and Circuit City are still doing well, right?

Apologies to Two Inch Astronaut for focusing so heavily on the past; by no means is Bad Brother solely reminiscent of mid-'90s cut-out classics. Like I mentioned in my review of their split single with Boston's Grass Is Green, there's plenty of DeSoto/Dischord post-punk influence here, with particular nods to Devin Ocampo's Faraquet (in the leads) and Medications (in the knotty structures of "He Was Our Boy"). But Two Inch Astronaut push the songs in both more aggressive, post-hardcore and more melodic, '90s alternative rock directions. The wild energy and throttling chords of "Spank Jail" represent the former nicely, splitting the difference between the control of Drive Like Jehu and the caterwauling of Daniel Striped Tiger. As for the alt-rock reference points, I've absolutely racked my brain trying to determine which synapses are firing over mid-tempo anthems like "Check the Yard," and the best I can come up with from the 120 Minutes pool is a less goofy Self, although Hammer No More the Fingers provide a good contemporary touchstone. Consider the crucial difference between a band being melodic and a band having memorable melodies; Two Inch Astronaut belongs firmly in the latter category.

Two Inch Astronaut’s triumvirate of tricky, aggressive, and catchy is awfully hard to top in my book, and Bad Brother flies by even faster than its fat-free twenty-seven-minute runtime. It’s almost a shame that so many of their peers have released similarly excellent LPs of late—almost—since Bad Brother deserves a few weeks of your undivided attention (and not just because you can’t afford any other albums).

Reviews: Grass Is Green and Two Inch Astronaut's Split Dicks

Grass Is Green and Two Inch Astronaut's Split Dicks

When it comes to seven-inch singles, I’m either complaining about their steadily escalating prices or wishing more bands would release them. Let me be more specific: release them properly. Charging eight bucks for two songs—one from the album people already own, one that’s more likely an alternate take, demo, or tossed-off cover than a must-hear rarity—is testing my faith in the format. If the price can’t come down, increase the value. Reward the faithful with a non-album single like Wire, The Smiths, or Stereolab did. Put something fun down on wax, like Wye Oak’s covers of “Strangers” and “Mother.” Or share space with another excellent band and see who comes out on top.

This single falls into the last category, with Boston’s Grass Is Green and Silver Spring, Maryland’s Two Inch Astronaut each making their vinyl debuts. With each band offering two exclusive songs, Split Dicks can be politely excused from the above discussion of value. The only thing that would have stopped me from recommending this single is if they’d chosen the cover from a Google Image Search of “split dicks,” and fortunately you only get the mental picture (which still makes my crotch recoil).

I’m well acquainted with Grass Is Green—I would have slotted Ronson in my top five LPs of 2012 if I actually got around to, you know, doing one. In classic seven-inch logic, these songs are solid enough to have made Ronson, but wouldn’t necessarily have fit into its flow. “Tasty Hot Air Balloon” struts like an aggro Polvo before breaking into an all-too-short anthemic finale. “You’re Yawning All Over My Baby” flies out of the gate with the spastic energy of their live sets, then runs some math-rock trials. I’d be happy to encounter either song on one of the group’s set lists.

Two Inch Astronaut appear to have been raised on the same steady diet of Dischord/DeSoto post-punk as Grass Is Green, but chose a less frenetic, more melodic direction. These songs are so up my Jawbox/Faraquet/Candy Machine alley that I’m kicking myself for not making it out to a house show in January to see both bands. Hopefully I’ll get another chance this spring after their upcoming album, Bad Brother, comes out.

I know the idea behind split singles is to introduce bands to their respective audiences, but I’d be glad if Split Dicks became a yearly series. Maybe next time Grass Is Green goes mid-tempo and Two Inch Astronaut gets spastic, maybe they cover each other’s songs, maybe they cover DC classics. Just keep away from GIS results for the covers.