Friday, May 8, 2015

Retisonic/w Riddle of Steel and Target Market -- Rocket Bar, November 13, 2003

Why does it seem like every musician I know is in the food service industry? Have these pluckers and wailers no skills beyond slinging pints of Newcastle and slipping drops of Visine into your Jack and Coke? It’s a mystery that scholars have spent hours upon hours debating.

“Tell me this, Coleman: Why cannot the world’s guitarists obtain dutiful employment that does not include serving cognac and cleaning lavatories?”

“Indeed, Winthorp. Indeed.”

All jokes aside, not all musicians toil in the booze collar sector. Restisonic’s Jason Farrell is one these anomalies. You may not recognize his name, but chances are fairly good that you’ve seen his work. Over the years, Farrell has done the graphic design for some your favorite bands’ records. Fugazi, At the Drive-In, Lungfish, Burning Airlines, and local gents Riddle of Steel are just a handful of examples. However, it’s in his music that Farrell has spent the majority of his work hours over the past 15-odd years.

Growing up as a skate punk in Bethesda, Maryland, Farrell found his musical roots in the local Washington, D.C. hardcore scene. Early forays into the musical universe followed. Band X formed and broke up; band Y started and ended; band Z’s van ran out of gas in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the winter of ’89 and had to resort to cannibalism in order to…err, disregard that last part. Eventually, in 1995, Bluetip was founded. For the next six years, Bluetip churned out four outstanding releases for the holy grail of indie labels, Dischord Records, self described as a “post-hardcore band with heavy doses of rock and small injections of new wave thrown in for the fuck of it.” As with Farrell’s previous bands, Bluetip ran into difficulties and disbanded. By this time, Farrell had packed up shop and headed to New York City. It was here he met up with one of Bluetip’s former drummers, Joe Gorelick, and Retisonic was born. Jim Kimball (no, not the Jim Kimball formerly of Mule, Laughing Hyenas, the Jesus Lizard, and currently The Denison/Kimball Trio) later joined the group, rounding out the threesome.

As band names go, Target Market rings in the ear like a band that plays noise-rock or post-punk. Maybe the name just made me think of Haymarket Riot or Barkmarket, and I was making a subconscious assumption of what I was about to hear. But my assumptions were shown to be off base as soon as Target Market took the stage.

One could lazily pigeonhole Target Market as “emo,” but there’s too much going on in Target Market’s sound for that to be completely accurate. Complimenting their two-guitar attack, Target Market incorporated a synthesizer and a little bit of keyboard into their music, creating a sound that’s rather difficult to classify.

Target Market’s brief set was filled with songs that ranged from slow-paced to harder-edged quiet/loud numbers. Their opener started with some Trans Am–like synthesizer, which immediately segued into a heavy, up-tempo number. From the get go, it was immediately evident that there was more going on in the song that could be picked out through the PA. The set’s last song ended as the first began: with one last burst of synthetic noise. Overall, I felt that band needed to give the synthesizer a larger role into their sound, instead of bits and pieces of it at the beginning and endings of their numbers. The way it is now, the instrument comes off as a little gimmicky. However, overall, Target Market was an interesting listen and I am looking forward to see how they evolve in the future.

In what is a fairly common practice for weeknight shows (or, as Jason Farrell put it, “a school night”), the touring band Retisonic played next. I suppose it makes it makes it easier on the poor schmucks who prefer to not drag their asses into their respective offices with less than five hours’ sleep.

As Farrell prepared to kick off Retisonic’s 45 minutes, he announced that they were going to play a lot of new tunes. What he didn’t say was that they were going to play all new songs. Unless my ears did me wrong, I didn’t catch a single tune from the debut EP Lean Beat. Retisonic’s sound isn’t far removed from what Bluetip churned out, but the songs that Retisonic played were leaner, meaner, and catchier than Bluetip’s back catalog. Adorning a long-sleeved cowboy shirt, Farrell was a dynamic presence, bounding back and forth from the front of stage to up against his guitar amps, rarely opening his eyes to gather his surroundings. The years on the road make it plainly evident that Farrell is totally at ease with playing in front of an audience.

Near the conclusion of their set, Farrell announced that as soon as Restisonic returned from touring, the band was heading to the studio to record its first full-length for release in spring 2004. If the record is made up with what Retisonic played this evening, it should be a smoker. Then perhaps, Retisonic won’t just be a band with ex-Bluetip, but a band that can stand free of their members’ past laurels.

Riddle of Steel opened their set with an oldie in the terms of their existence, “Fourteen Bucks the Hard Way.” Aside from that opener, the majority of set was devoted to tracks off of their Ascetic Records release, Python. The lion’s share of the crowd who stuck around was mighty impressed with the show ROS laid out. I’ve seen Riddle of Steel play more than any other local band (counting both Lawrence, KS and Kansas City) ever, and with the exception of Ring, Cicada, I haven’t witnessed a band that has improved more as an outfit than Riddle of Steel. I’ve not always been totally down with ROS, but they are now certified Grade-A Prime St. Louis Rock in my book. There may be a STL band out there that plays more shows or promotes themselves more aggressively than ROS, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove me otherwise.

On a side note, STL’s Ascetic Records are currently collecting tracks for the second edition of their Socomtonar Collection compilation. The disc will feature two tracks each from Riddle of Steel, Kansas City’s Dirtnap and The Life and Times, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma’s Traindodge, and Japanese imports Ballons and Undercurrent. Release date yet to be determined.

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