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The Chief Assassin to the Sinister

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Album Review

After San Diego's Three Mile Pilot picked up some serious steam with the bass-and-drums-only punk splendor of Na Vucca Do Lupu, they returned to the studio determined to make music that sustained the same sort of artistic experimentalism, lyrical atmospherics, and raw energy. The result — Chief Assassin to the Sinister, released on the Headhunter/Cargo label — was enough of a musical triumph to garner the attention of the bigwigs at Geffen, who re-released it with their blessing and additional tracks before abruptly dropping the fiercely independent group as quickly as it had embraced them. But that's all back story — the real deal is the alternative spirit that courses through Chief Assassin to the Sinister like blood pumping from Pall A. Jenkins' bleeding heart. "You've got to turn yourself/Into something you don't like/We've known it all along/And it's all or none/Take it all at once/And it's in all of us/And we fight the wheel/It's just this need to control," Jenkins howls with aplomb on the disc's best track, "Inner Bishop," a stop-start classic in the vein of the Pixies' finest work. The fact that "Inner Bishop" is unavailable on the Headhunter release is at least one reason to thank David Geffen for giving these guys a chance, as well as motivation enough to track down this hard-to-find disc at your local 'burb store (where they've got nine million Britney Spears CDs but only two Beatles releases) or an online indie outlet (good luck). But the DGC version of Chief Assassin to the Sinister features other standout tracks as well. "Chenjesu" is a quiet rumination on fragmentation ("And if it splinters should I know/It's to be broken/It's not what I pictured things to be") for about three minutes before it turns into a cathartic maelstrom of delicious screaming noise from Jenkins, Tom Zinser's frenetic drums, and (an unfairly underrated musician deserving of special praise) Armistead Burwell Smith's seminal exploration of the bass guitar. Same goes with the tune that follows directly after it, "Midgaard Serpent," whose chorus ("Shalom be the fire") is a striking resolution to Jenkins' decidedly disillusioned world view ("We are the countless brooms cleaning up after these headstrong mules"). To add to the band's depth, there is the additional allure of most of Chief Assassin to the Sinister's song titles and lyrics: the Chenjesu are a philosopher race found within a pre-Playstation RPG, while the Midgaard Serpent — though a Norse figure along the lines of the Ouroborous (the snake that eats its own tail, a creature form of the infinity symbol) — is another popular role-playing avatar. And like the Midgaard Serpent, Three Mile Pilot's second album (the Geffen version, especially) is a Pandora's Box of content, context, and groundbreaking musical theater, something not to be missed no matter your taste in music. The fact that it's almost impossible to find (rumors of a Three Mile Pilot reunion might help matters some) is a debilitating shame.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

San Diego's Three Mile Pilot are perhaps best known to the indie rock world at large for supplying key personnel to Touch & Go buzz band the Black Heart Procession. Still, they spent much of the '90s near the forefront of a surprisingly active local indie scene. Three Mile Pilot made their mark with distinctively moody, bass-centered arrangements (in fact, they started out with no guitar at all) and a prog rock aesthetic that often resulted in long, winding, multi-sectioned song structures. Their...
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The Chief Assassin to the Sinister, Three Mile Pilot
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