Review: Chain Gang Grave, When Your Friends Become Cops (Self-Released, 2014)

When Your Friends Become Cops is the six-song, 27-minute cassette debut from Brooklyn trio (guitar, drums, and vocals) Chain Gang Grave—featuring two former members of the excellent And This Army, who I wrote about many years ago. Thus far, the terms "post-punk," "noise pop," and "chaos punk" have been tossed at the band, which is not necessarily inaccurate, but there's much more to it than that, so expect a very different and atypical approach here.

As a whole, the tape is very consistent from track to track, utilizing lots of ringing, dissonant chords that are really quite cool; and the vocals are kind of half-spoken/yelled (with bits of kinda-sorta "singing") from the background—mixed deep in against the instruments to where you could envision the dude actually standing behind the drummer or something. And speaking of the drumming, it's that all-too-rare variety that I really love, where rather than a series of beats and patterns, the percussion is constantly rolling and flowing and transforming (much like the songs themselves, in this case).

While there is structure and repetition in the songs, there's certainly nothing that falls into a verse/chorus format by any means. The structuring tends to be somewhat linear in terms of moving from point A to point B, but this is accomplished by transitioning from part to part to part to part—so you end up having gone from A to B, and it feels like a song, but you don't necessarily know how you got there (which is not a bad thing), because everything's more often than not constantly shifting and changing.

What does it sound like? Good question. There's absolutely no way you could ever pin this to a particular genre. The gnashing, dissonant chords actually share some commonalities with black metal, at times veering in a Godflesh-like direction, but I would never in a million years compare what they're doing to either black metal or Godflesh. There are some doomy riffs and slow, pulsing rhythms, too. But again, not to the point of suggesting the band is leaning in that direction. Sometimes things get a touch faster, or a hint more melodic, a little bit frantic, somewhat hypnotic... it's dark and pissed off, but not in a way that beats you right over the head.

I don't know. It is what it is. And it's unusual. And it's awesome.

The material was recorded and mixed by the band's drummer in his basement, and is stripped down and raw without being harsh or sounding shitty. They've achieved a rugged balance that works well and makes sense for what they're doing, and the only minor downside is that I do notice the absence of bass. It's not that big a deal, but I have to admit that I feel like some solid low-end rumble would actually benefit this material. It just feels a tad sparse, which can be both a good and a bad thing. While I appreciate the space and the breathing room, which highlights the textural nuances of the guitar tone, there is a gap in the mix that would be perfectly filled by some dark and oppressive bass runs.

No lyrics are included with the cassette or on Bandcamp, and I'd actually be really curious to see 'em, 'cause the overall atmosphere is very suggestive and it's tough to gauge what they might be going for based on the song titles alone. I'd imagine the content could be creative and weird, possibly thought-provoking, perhaps littered with dark humor (the vocalist does go by "Young Al Bundy," after all)... or maybe all of the above?

In this day and age I can only assume everyone checks out the music to make their own judgments, and in the case of Chain Gang Grave you pretty much have to. They're not unlike And This Army in that they're doing their own thing that's just a little outside the norm—which means they, too, may fly by somewhat underappreciated.

The first pressing of 50 cassettes is basically sold out (Aquarius Records still has a few available), while the second pressing of just 30 more (with revised track order) is still available directly from the band, or digitally as a name your price download.

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