Written by: Dave Cantrell
How can I write a review I’ve already written? I can’t. How can Lithics match, and in some respects outdo, the debut that piece was created to address? They can’t. Or, rather, they shouldn’t be humanly able to, and yet they have here on Mating Surfaces. I’m not going to waste time and ink recasting all the serpentine turns of phrase Borrowed Floors pulled out of me like some sort of syntactical exorcism so am instead going to make this as mercifully short as I can manage [not actually that short – ed]. And to whatever extent this review seems a continuation of its predecessor, you may safely assume that’s in large part because this second Lithics album is itself a whopping chapter two to the terse opening folio that was the first.
With that in mind, though we will be following Robert’s Rules of Record Reviewing where various tracks are scanned for the presumed purpose of intuiting and in turn conveying to you the overall aesthetic scansion of this band’s jumpy musical sentences, we will diverge in at least a couple of respects: I won’t, as has been stated but I feel bears repeating, be breaking any new critical ground because Bob and Aubrey and Mason and Wiley have already broken it before I got here, and I won’t be suggesting in a too-tidy ending that you rush out to wherever you rush to obtain for your own impeccable collection your own copy of Mating Surfaces because I’m telling you right here right now in this very instant to go do so. Hell, you don’t even need to read the rest of what I have to say if you don’t want to. Just go buy it. I won’t be insulted because, one, I won’t know, and, two, it’s what I’d do. Go on then, scat! For the rest of you that stayed, here are a few hopefully choice words that will hopefully persuade you to become a member of the sung-to choir that just left the room.
Whereas Floors, with “Burn on Burn,” began its inexorable creep into the Pylonated consciousness-at-large with a full measure of all-alone bass that allowed the brief impression a lost Tina Weymouth solo joint had been newly unearthed, Surfaces, with songtitle-of-the-year entrant “Excuse Generator,” presents in a jittery all-at-once flurry as if you just unsuspectingly pulled the lid off one of those joke tins and four fake snakes are suddenly jumping out at you in all their spring-loaded madness. Except it isn’t madness, it’s precision run cagily amok like too few do nowadays (check Oakland’s Naked Lights for another prime example). The music Lithics persists in making makes sense to the nervous and brings them solace. Its punchy is angular, its angles staggeringly modulated in an up-and-down ongoing catharsis like a heart monitor after too much morning coffee. This is antsy angiogram rock, written by the head but interpreted by the feet, meaning all that poor pumping fist-sized organ can do is jolt to the electricity as it pulses past from the one to the other. In short, this is the sound of what happens when the cerebral meets the id uptown.
“When Will I Die” mines the Devo DNA for its herky jerk guitar ping while simultaneously reminding that the distance between that band’s Akron and the Feelies’ home in Haledon, New Jersey may not be as far as the maps allege. “Glass of Water” is abrupt of pace before it even starts and spends its buck twenty running time running out of time and is possibly the tightest ‘rock’ track this writer’s heard since The Stick Men’s “Hotpoint” temporarily melted his parietal cortex on This is the Master Brew back in 1982. Speaking of time, follow-up track “Be Nice Alone”‘s avant-tick tock guitars sound what one might guess Ornette Coleman’s clocks would talk like if they could talk. Similarly racing, “Flat Rock,” proggy jazzy skeletal, umm, rock stripped to its basic-est, and the delicate but thrumming pummel of “Home,” sandwich the suppler “Edible Door,” just as frantic in its bass-led way but somehow the repeated motifs in this particular go-round imply a moment of ordered calm not predicated, as normal, on Aubrey’s dominantly aloof vocals that I swear resemble nothing less that a Northwest-inflected Nico made a shade anxious by the antics of those surrounding her.
So, okay, no wild divergence on album number two, then, but instead an empowered refinement which is fine as it’s allowed your correspondent the chance to broaden and more deeply parse the sources of this none-more-impressive local band’s impact as they’re increasingly welcomed on to the national stage. While certainly sharing afflictions with those thus far mentioned among a select handful of others – enigmatic Dutch continentals The Tapes from the very early ’80’s come to mind – Lithics short sharp stabs of breathless zap coiling around phat funky shards of bass and a drummer with a serious case of the complex steadies, more than anything, trigger impressions of – if you’ll pardon the cutesy phrase-coining – Gang of Four careening with intent down the Bill Harkleroad. Once that thought occurs it’s kind of apparent everywhere but even were it not the band seem to slyly telegraph as much when, in the first few seconds of Mating Surfaces‘ longest track (at five minutes) “Boyce,” a raw chopped guitar seems to be quoting the spirit if not the letter of “Return the Gift.” If it’s a ‘sincerest form of flattery’ thing it’s also among the shortest and therefore feels little more than a borrowed gateway as the song then exits post-haste through a door marked ‘Lithics only’ that leads to freakazoid guitar maneuvers, criss-cross-purposed angularity, trance patterning, the whole dry but driving manic palette. By the time it’s over I promise you’ll be checking their tour dates to see if there’s any chance to see them live. Something like this, you gotta see, you gotta hear it in person.
And really, that’s where we’re left, isn’t it, in a place quite similar to where all singular artists of this ilk tend to leave us: Bob and Aubrey and Mason and Wiley standing-kind-of-writhing under pale white lights, making our limbic systems just about the happiest to be alive they’ve ever been while every comparison anyone’s ever attached to this band withers away under the heat of a Lithics performance.