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[It (Is) It] Critical Band

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Album Review

Math rock has arguably been influenced by Kraftwerk, youngsters in the Midwest listening to the regularity and clinicality of the early electronic gurus and nixing the idea of chord progressions or melody. A lot of math rock emphasizes the technicalities of rock & roll — the time changes, hitting all the pristine notes, instrumental prowess, and some screaming tossed on top just to make sure the band doesn't sound too bored. 90 Day Men have inverted the math rock style without significantly altering it with (It (Is) It) Critical Band. For a math aficionado, nothing here will surprise you — on first listen it will sound like the standard Chicago fare. The tip-off, however, to the subtle evolution of the genre should be Brian Case's vocal which varies little from a straight monotone. More to the point, in a strict sense, his voice is awful. But somehow over the chinking guitars and occasional backing screams he manages to sound fantastic, his voice the perfect fit, sliding in between the dueling guitar riffs with an effortless quality. Rather than the typical "I will scream now to show you that I am more than a guitar god" performance, Case sounds so effortless you assume there must be so much talent around him that he doesn't need to even try. Self-awareness is often evident from 90 Day Men. The disc's third cut opens with Case muttering, "This is from one primadonna to another," a refreshing take on the artist-as-jerk stereotype, rightfully turning the tables to a fan-as-jerk accusation that seems fitting considering the fickleness of most indie audiences. Thankfully the group also manages to avoid some obvious pratfalls that commonly belittle young talented groups. Nowhere on this disc will you find a slow build to a crescendo. Neither will you find anything really rocking; restraint seems to be the key. Despite the razor sharp time and key changes, the band manages to sound soulful. On the ten-plus minute "Super Illuminary," the rhythm section is given a chance to showcase their skills, and the interplay between the high-hat and the four-string is surprisingly good. Case's mutterings make an occasional appearance, but the epic cut is primarily instrumental. "Hans Lucas" displays Key switching to a falsetto which suits him just fine. While the guitar riff is nothing noteworthy, the drum work is worth mentioning. In the verses, drummer Cayce Key places the emphasis of the beat on the high-hat rather than the snare, making the song near danceable. To the math rock virgin, this disc will feel like a revelation and, to some extent, it is. But to the seasoned vet of the likes of Slint or Rodan, much of this will be familiar territory. In either case, 90 Day Men should come as a well-executed surprise, a math rock act that has something new to say.


Formed: Chicago, IL

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The 90 Day Men evolved into one of the more distinctive math rock bands of the new millennium, opening up the angular, dissonant complexity that was the genre's stock-in-trade to include elements of psychedelia, '70s prog rock, and new wave. Early on, their sound was more typical -- post-hardcore art-punk indebted to Slint and their various Louisville brethren (Rodan, June of 44, etc.) as well as D.C.'s Dischord stable. As keyboards became an increasingly important part of their core sound, however,...
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[It (Is) It] Critical Band, The 90 Day Men
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