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Saccharine Trust - Paganicons CD (album) cover

PAGANICONS

Saccharine Trust

 

Eclectic Prog

4.05 | 5 ratings

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HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
Retired Admin
3 stars This EP was Saccharine Trust's first release, and indeed one of the first releases on the legendary SST label. Like their contemporaries the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust were a punk band that tried not to be a punk band - they followed the example of early Wire and subverted the form and changed it into something that was theirs. While this EP will have limited appeal for prog fans due to its fairly rough musicianship and recording quality, it's actually one of my favorite albums of all time. It's a strange beast. The vocals (by Jack Brewer) are a strange animalistic nasal growl, barking lyrics that are unusually literate and phonetically striking. The guitar (by Joe Baiza) sounds downright amateurish compared to the levels of jazzy mastery he would reach in just a couple of years, but it's still clear that he's trying for something other than just bashing out bar chords - his sound is brittle and dissonant, kind of like Gang of Four but without the swing; very angular and harsh. Bass and drums (Earl Liberty and Rob Holzman respectively) keep things simple most of the time, but sometimes kick into some start/stop rhythms that add to the album's excitement considerably.

"I Have..." opens the EP with a relatively complex arrangement, driven by nonstandard guitar chords chiming over a hammering beat, and a brilliant lyric dramatically intoned by Brewer, about the chauvinism of American recorded history (see? this stuff is smart!). "Community Lie" is musically similar, with a dramatic structure whose musical shifts deftly mirror the dramatic lyrics - this time about a woman condemned by her peers by the double standards of sexism. The "courtroom" scenery of the lyric is a brilliant device, and it's sung from the point of view of a juror, calling his own judgmental ways into question even as he rationalizes his position by concluding with "it was justice". "Effort to Waste" is more abstract, offering images of sickness and pain in between shards of dissonant guitar chords over another charging beat. "Mad at the Co." lasts less than a minute, and it's a brief spit in the face to that day job you hate; the music plays like one long angry riff, very Minutemen-like. "I Am Right" closes side one with a simple fist-shakin' "anthem". Probably the weakest track.

"We Don't Need Freedom" opens side two with the fairly bold (certainly "un-punk") statement that we aren't worthy of freedom because we just waste it on stupidity anyway, and secretly prefer the "comfort" of having your decisions made for you. Musically, it's not one of the better numbers. "Success and Failure", however, is. This one shuffles quickly through a tricky rhythm where bass, drums, and guitar all add something different to create a unique sound. I'm not sure what the lyric is about though. Finally, we have the epic length (5 minutes!) "A Human Certainty", a truly terrifying piece of ugliness. Opening with a long instrumental section, Baiza sets the tone and works his way into a piercing guitar figure before Brewer comes in sounding like Mr. Doctor from Devil Doll, with lines worthy of a horror movie. In the dissonant outro to the song, Brewer moans and shrieks like a man with intestinal parasites, then saying "I'm okay now" and continuing with a more sober recitation that suggests he's just waking up from a bad dream and analyzing it. Chilling stuff.

Bottom line: this is a punk album on a prog site, so take that as you may. The band would soon get a new rhythm section (with drummer Holzman going on to form the excellent Television-like band Slovenly) and incorporate more jazz elements into their sound, with Baiza in particular adding immense sophistication to his playing. But this is where it all started, and it's a strikingly original and lyrically sophisticated punk album from the dawn of the American hardcore renaissance. On my personal scale, I'd give this five stars, but for this site I think it's good for a solid 3.

HolyMoly | 3/5 |

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