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Dead Horse Alex Deller , October 4th, 2021 08:30

Kansas City sludge rockers living very much up to their name

There’s something supremely on-the-nose about a grinding, gurning noise-rock act naming themselves ‘Bummer’ and releasing a record called Dead Horse – so much so that you might worry about a dearth of self awareness were the music not this on-point. Kansas trio Bummer have form that stretches back almost a decade, toiling in the mucky punk rock trenches and making ugly, abrasive music that has satisfied if not entirely scintillated. That’s all changed with their first full-length for Thrill Jockey, with the band ramping up both their sound and songwriting to feverish, vein-bursting levels. 

Despite the snarky Big Black-ish dreams of escape and immolation to be found in the lyrics, Bummer’s sound is rooted in more ragged and unhinged brand of noise-rock – one aligned with the likes of Unsane, KARP, and Scratch Acid, albeit shot-through with the hostile, hardcore-powered sludge of bands like Fistula and Cavity. Riffs catch and tear like soft meat caught in a trouserzip, while Matt Perrin’s voice sounds like it might’ve been permanently damaged by all the bile he’s brought up over the years. Things pound, lurch, and blast depending on the band’s mood and mental state at any given moment, staggering from the unsteady gait of ‘I Want To Punch Bruce Springsteen In The Dick’ and the unnerving springiness of ‘False Floor’ to the rapidly-escalating ‘Magic Cruel Bus’, which ends with Perrin sounding at true tether’s end as he hollers about “one more fucking god damn thing.” The band is so locked into its own airless, negative space that guest spots from Sean Ingram (Coalesce) and Matt King (Portrayal Of Guilt) barely seem to register, these two formidable vocalists all but subsumed by an adherence to unkind drudge so single-minded that it borders on the puritanical.

As with the music made by like-minded labelmates Eye Flys and The Body, the results are gruelling and unpleasant. But while there’s bleakness and scalding rage by the bucketful, there are also fragments of bone-dry humour to be found: not levity, as such, but the kind of bitter, unbelieving barks of laughter that erupt when one petty, monotonous cruelty too many is piled upon the heap. Admittedly this doesn’t lighten the mood one whit, but it does add further depth – additional smudged shades of grey that might make Bummer’s collective lives even more of a, uhh, bummer, but round things out for all us sickos and voyeurs who want to peek in at life lived at its lowest.