DEAD WOOD - The Stabs (Spooky Records)
As scuzzy as a cocktail party in a swamp that's knee-deep in alligator shit, "Dead Wood" finds The Stabs in major league form. This stuff is as hard to ignore as a dentist's drill and if you try, it's at your own peril.
The formula is seemingly simple: Rolling waves of bass propel most songs forward with dissonant, knife-edged guitar and black-eyed vocals. Brendan Noonan's precise but serrated six-strings don't so much draw blood as tear arteries on a song like the album stand-out, "No Hoper". Send royalty cheques to a squat on Desolation Row.
As critics fall over themselves to anoint The Stabs as bastard successors to the Scientists and the Birthday Party, the band shrugs off comparisons and gets on with the job. There are elements of both those exalted acts in their sound ("The Hated One" especially recalls the Birthday Party) but it's clear thatThe Stabs have quickly carved their own place.
Although "No Hoper" is a favourite, "Split Lips" and the fuzz-bass careering "Family Trust" rank not far behind. They're recognisable as songs. "Blues in F#" is simply a pummelling.
The appropriately maudlin "Funeral Waltz" saves its most venomous moments for the outro, applying a good minute's worth of white noise like vinegar on an open cut.
Bassist Mark Nelson might be the unsung star. As well as his constant and consummate work on bass around which many of the songs revolve, he shifts to piano and vocals on the searing "Cabin Fever", adding fingernails-on-a-chalkboard guitar.
Loki Lockwood added his usual deft production ear. The sound is crystalline yet beefy in the bottom end. In striving for dynamism, the middle-range hasn't been lost.
The Stabs have attracted attention from the likes of Mick Harvey (who put them on the inaugural All Tomorrows Parties Australian bill) and they've already toured Asia and the USA. Envelop yourself in their noise. It's cleansing. - The Barman
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DIRT - The Stabs- “Dirt” (Art School Dropout/Reverberation)
There seems to be fairly intense scene gathering around Art School Dropout, a hard working and wide-ranging label based out in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne that is attracting a fair amount of notice recently, with a roster including Kiosk and the Birdblobs as well as the Stabs.
This CD doesn’t come with a lot of information, just some impenetrable monochrome cover art, a short scrawled track listing of cryptic titles, and a few thanks you's inside. No reams of glossy photos, no PR handout/bullshshit, no lyrics. There’s not even a mention of the three band members’ names, just recording studio and producer’s names. You’re on your own with it.
The band’s website mentions that they are “in the tradition of bloody Australian swamp/noise bands like Lubricated Goat and Phlegm”. I’d add approving agreement to that, and add Venom P Stinger to the list too, along with NYC shouters Unsane. I’ve only seen part of a set by these guys live- my notes from that night are now lost but the photos do indeed show one of them with plenty of the red stuff running down his face following some sort of onstage guitar-to-forehead incident, so the bloody description is accurate, as is the noise. Unfortunately though they don’t seem to play live very often.
Regardless of the fairly short running time, with eight tracks clocking in at just over thirty minutes, they cover a lot of ground here on their first LP, from intense and urgent to slow and painful, with lashings of feedback and distortion to boot. Guitars are either shrieking and hitting the red at the front of the mix or muted under the huge drums and thick bass. The rhythms of these songs veer and shake, and “steady tempo” feels like an outdated concept. That short running time is really the only drawback with this– it just may not be quite enough material to get a proper grip on the Stabs
Deciphering the lyrics is fairly hard going- as I said earlier, there aren’t a lot of clues given here and they are often hard to hear under the (deliberately sludgy?) production. One common thread that can be gleaned is a sense of violence and creepiness, that’s more “Last House On the Left” than “Nightmare On Elm Street”, if you’re a cinema buff, more “The Collector” than “American Psycho”, if you’re a reader.
“Never Going Home” seems to be set in a dark basement where serious games are played out- “I got your number/You’re lying on the floor/You take your last breath/While I go get the saw...”- though putting that down in black & white takes away the um, charm of the line as it is sung. This kind of attitude can easily veer into bad cliché, but trust me when I say that some of these tunes hold more menace in four or five minutes that suckers like Slipknot or Korn manage to distill into a whole LP.
It may not be as easy as it should be to find a copy of this- though I suspect that may be somewhat deliberate on the Stabs’ part- but it’s well worth seeking out. If you want something to relax to by candlelight while smoking opium and drinking white wine in your recently scrubbed and now sadly empty dungeon, this is it.
- TJ Honeysuckle
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