Album Of The Week: Coliseum Sister Faith
This used to be what indie rock sounded like. During the 1990s, Elephant 6 and Belle And Sebastian were outliers, and the genre (which really was more genre and less loose lifestyle appellation) hadn’t erased all traces of the get-in-the-van ’80s hardcore that helped birth it. As late as a decade ago, when the Louisville trio Coliseum formed, the term “indie” evoked images of Pretty Girls Make Graves or Blood Brothers as much as, I don’t know, Beulah, and it was still vaguely novel to hear a flugelhorn on a Sub Pop record. These days, Coliseum are creatures of the loose metal underground that’s become our greatest resource for facepunch guitars, but they’re not really a metal band. The ingredients of their sound come from other places: Pummeling locked-in bass-thuds from Girls Against Boys, swampy-but-skronky guitar fuzz-bursts from Sonic Youth, beardedly beery vocal blurts from about a thousand different bands. And with their new Sister Faith, Coliseum have made an album that stews all those influences into something powerfully satisfying and maybe even nourishing. It’s not an innovative album by any means, but it might scratch an itch that you didn’t even know you had.
Here’s the best way I can think to describe Coliseum’s sound. It starts with another Louisville band: Slint, who did math-rock throb with a distant but hot emotional fire and who are, low-key, one of the most influential metal bands of the past few decades despite not being remotely metal. But plenty of bands start with the Slint blueprint and take it nowhere; Coliseum do something interesting with it by speeding it up like Motörhead, turning it into no-bullshit rage-out adrenaline music. They’ve been doing it for a while now, growing into their sound and internalizing it, getting better at it to the point where it’s entirely theirs. Sister Faith is their fourth album, and it’s their second with producer J. Robbins, whose involvement is also an important key to this thing. Robbins used to lead Jawbox and Burning Airlines; he’s a principal architect of the post-hardcore clangor that finally mostly disappeared into emo. Those bands blew minds because they led with the rhythm section, keeping everything rigorous and disciplined on the low-end while guitar and voice freaked out, tied melodic knots, threw tantrums. They brought the sense that the rhythmic lockstep was the only thing holding those stretched-out and distended guitars together, the last line that kept them tethered to the earth. And even though Coliseum frontman Ryan Patterson riffs more than Robbins ever did, he brings those same dynamics — all tension, no release, but with a beat that keeps things pushing forever forward.
It’s hard to pick out their individual contributions, but Coliseum called in a whole mess of friends to help out on Sister Faith, turning it into a community affair, and that list of names is a fascinating and illuminating thing. Robbins played on it, of course, and Sister Faith is the first album recorded at his new Baltimore studio. (A note to bands: Use this guy more. Baltimore is a cheap and lovely place to stay, Robbins could always use some extra money for very noble and important reasons, and he will make your drums sound like they’re ready to cave in chest cavities.) Boris frontman Wata, whose own band fits just as uncomfortably into the metal scene as Coliseum does, is here. So is Jason Loewenstein, from the comparatively wussy Sebadoh, whose most iconic song is about the exact moment when a hardcore kid decides that he’s an indie rock kid. Another guy, Jason Farrell, comes from Swiz and Bluetip, two of the bands that pushed DC hardcore into further-out sounds. And so is Elizabeth Elmore, whose bands Sarge and the Reputation came at the tail end of the riot-grrrl boomlet and put a vulnerable human face on the feelings behind that movement. These are all good people, and none of them dictate the direction of the album, but all of them find room for themselves in the racket.
Listening to the album, you’re not necessarily thinking about the people involved in making it, or what their involvement might express. It’s too fun for all that. “Last/Lost” is all strained propulsion, like Hüsker Dü in full attack mode. “Under The Blood Of The Moon” has a big, meaty stomper of a riff working for it. “Everything In Glass” sounds like At The Drive-In if they were a half-step slower; it’s got that same righteous chaos to it. At its climax, “Bad Will” reverts back to straight-up old-school hardcore, its final chorus the sort of thing that demands a raised-fist gang-chant. This is the sound of guys playing hard, aggressive music because it’s what comes naturally to them; it’s the stuff their fingers feel themselves playing when they’re touching instruments. God knows, the world doesn’t need a million more bands like this, and we weren’t necessarily better off when bands like this were the exception rather than the rule. But it’s still an absolute pleasure to hear a band like this is still around, playing this music and playing it well.
Sister Faith is out today on Temporary Residence.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Iggy And The Stooges’ toothsome reunion album Ready To Die.
• !!!’s surprisingly smooth and song-oriented dance-party THR!!!ER.
• Cayucas’s warm, sunny indie-pop hookfest Bigfoot.
• Beacon’s pretty indie-R&B sighfest The Ways We Separate.
• Colin Stetson’s drone-skronk sax odyssey New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light.
• Sun Kil Moon and the Album Leaf’s depressive full-length collaboration Perils From The Sea.
• Akron/Family’s wooly bugout Sub Verses.
• Os Mutantes’ English-language excursion Fool Metal Jack.
• Guided By Voices umpteenth reunion album English Little League.
• The Melvins’ reliably deranged covers album Everybody Loves Sausages.
• Coma’s effervescent dance LP In Technicolor.
• Rittz’s redneck speed-rap exhibition The Life And Times Of Jonny Valiant.
• Disclosure’s singles-collection EP.