E.P. REVIEW: It Isn’t What It Wasn’t by Pyj (released 14 February 2014)

PYJPyJ are an interesting group, a two-piece that hail from San Diego, California. They combine several disparate influences to concoct quite a unique style that can skip genres even within the seperate sections of a song. This E.P. comprises six tracks, and in true punk spirit, most are under the three-minute mark.

Whilst they could most easily be labelled alternative rock, their sound is a melting pot of hardcore punk bands like Black Flag, Fugazi and very early Husker Du but with much more quirky, eccentric influences like Devo, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, with a dash of angular alt-rock bands like Pavement and the Pixies. If someone needed them summed up in a few words though, I’d say an alt-rock Sparks!

Opener ‘Never Learn’ displays the more trademark aspects of their oeuvre, combining gritty low-octave guitar riffs with distorted fuzz-bass, offset by more melodic Joey Santiago-esque lead lines. The production is lo-fi but effective, as is the musicianship. Vocals are buried quite low in the mix but, rather like The Jesus and Mary Chain, the vocal melodies are strong and surprisingly anthemic beneath the wall of noise.

Second track ‘Where Have You Gone?’ is more gentle, featuring some nice acoustic guitar figures, and the hook soon sticks in your head. The lyrics are hard to make out, but belie a certain angst with lines like ‘I want to matter’ and ‘so desperate’ poking out of the music, which is by contrast relatively upbeat.

The title track, which comes next, highlights what I meant about genre-hopping within a single song. It starts off in a similar style to the previous song, but fifteen seconds in a gnarly punk riff grabs the listener by the throat then proceeds to build to a catchy chorus. A manic ten-second section occurs after the second chorus, then the song returns to its sedate beginnings for the last thirty seconds. Head-spinning stuff.

Fourth track ‘All You’ve Got’ returns to the more mellow acoustic-led sound of ‘Where Have You Gone?’, featuring another memorable chorus and a bassline that is pure Pixies. This acts as breathing space for the hectic pace of the last two tracks ‘Surrounded’ and ‘Obsession’.

‘Surrounded’ is like the title track but on twice the drugs,  short passages of brooding drums with effective touches of electronica alternating with sections of breakneck bottled madness. The bridge lasts about four seconds! This kind of quirk-punk brings to mind Wire’s seminal 1979 album Pink Flag, another band that rejoiced in wrong-footing the listener at every turn.

The closing track ‘Obsession’ is my personal favourite and even manages to out-weird the previous song. It’s their ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us’. Starting with a complex pattern on tom-toms, it then enters a section of pounding bass drum and menacing fuzz-bass leading to a very catchy, yet off-kilter, chorus that is rhythmically pure Sparks. The only audible lyrics consist of the chant ‘you’re so high!’, possibly an accusation that could be levelled at the creators of this bonkers but exhilarating two-minute song.

Overall, this E.P. is a very enjoyable ride that will find favour amongst those whose tastes lean towards left of field and are bored of the cookie-cutter fodder that pollutes the mainstream charts. A strong album could help consolidate their place in the alternative field and PyJ may well develop a strong cult following. Long may they continue their divine madness.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 7.6 out of 10

 

Links: Bandcamp Facebook

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