Heatmiser - Dead Air - Cassette tape on Frontier Records

Heatmiser – Dead Air – Cassette tape on Frontier Records

 

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Heatmiser – Dead Air – Cassette

Elliot Smith likely cringes to remember that before his all-too-precious reinvention of himself he was trying to rock out in a Fugazi/Helmet vein. It’s not because it’s bad, though — if derivative, Dead Air is still a mighty fine debut album, though arguably more credit goes to the band’s true creative touchstone, fellow singer/guitarist Neil Gust. Openly gay but not making it his creative raison d’etre like, say, Pansy Division, Gust and company tear things with full-on energy, while the coproduction on the part of the band and Portland legend Thee Slayer Hippy is crisp and focused. There’s a perhaps inevitable casting of grunge over everything given its 1993 genesis, but instead of sprawl the emphasis is on tautness, vocals rough but not whined, more Hüsker Dü and Mission of Burma, say, than Black Sabbath or Black Flag. Gust’s knack for anthemic, empowering choruses infused with open emotional passion make the Fugazi comparison in particular appropriate, almost as if on his own he’s fused Ian Mackaye and Guy Picciotto in one body. At one point, on the wonderful “Can’t Be Touched,” he even sounds like an aggro Michael Stipe. The songs don’t waste time — 14 in 37 minutes — and steer away from easy sing-along approaches in favor of slightly more complex headbanging with a brain and heart. “Stray,” re-recorded from an earlier single, sounds fantastic, just brawling with fierce energy and close-to-the heart empathy both, not to mention a great chorus. “Bottle Rocket” is a definite winner, with some great call and response vocal work and a steadily building verse into chorus structure that’s fierce without falling prey to incipient emo clichés. Every so often there’s some great flash on the guitars — check out the solo on “Dirt” — while the rhythm section does well enough (drummer Brandt Peterson in particular does the business well).

Song List
1. Still
2. Candyland
3. Mock-Up
4. Dirt
5. Bottle Rocket
6. Blackout
7. Stray
8. Can’t Be Touched
9. Cannibal
10. Don’t Look Down
11. Sands Hotel
12. Lowlife
13. Buick
14. Dead Air

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