Album Review
7:00 am
Tue August 5, 2014

Gazer: Fake Bulbs

For those unfamiliar with the band Gazer, it may be best to describe them in their own words: "post-punk with the intensity of hardcore [and] inconsiderate blasts of noise."

Last October, when I started listening to Gazer's Phone Commercial EP, they quickly became one of my favorite local punk bands. The sound on Phone Commercial is reminiscent of the industrial Midwestern post-punk of the 90's like Big Black and Brainiac  - but Gazer has managed to take that sound, intensify it, and make it significant to the 21st century.

Because of that, it was a special day for me when I received a copy of Gazer’s new 12" from Phratry Records which features Phone Commercial on one side and a new EP entitled Fake Bulbs on the other.

Gazer recorded Fake Bulbs with Will Allard [Xerxes, Whips/Chains] at Missed Connections in Louisville, KY and reconnected with fellow local musician Jake Tippey [The Frankl Project] to do the mastering. With this album, the band worked to "expand the complexity of their songwriting and the overall mass of their sound, while maintaining a lyrical balance between the abstract and the pointedly detailed, the outwardly hostile and the inwardly critical."

The quest for expanded complexity is clearly evident the first time you listen to Fake Bulbs. Right from the beginning, the music feels more developed and less haphazard - there is a greater fullness to the sound. It doesn't assault your ears with the same blistering riffs as Phone Commercial, but rather growls with looming discord. Also, Bulbs contains more lyrical depth, complexity and introspect without losing any of the malice that drew me to Gazer in the first place. They achieve this lyrical balance by working in a language that comes from a place of malignant shame, self-loathing and fear that is repellant but written in a tone that is universally engaging.

The four songs that make up Fake Bulbs can almost be taken as two pairs, each in themselves dissected along vague lines of symmetry. Tying these segments together are deliciously sinister transitions. They not only generate an odd sense of cohesiveness but also imbue the entire collection with an even greater sense of unease.

The opening song, "A Nurse for a Human," tells a tale of living with chronic illness (combined with a hint of hypochondria?) and the weakness and constant disappointment in the frail human form that comes with it. Anyone who has ever dealt with a long-term medical condition can find something that resonates with them.

Its partner piece, "Defex," is an endearing ode to age, decay and entropy. The voice comes from a disconnected observer, like that of a forgotten spectre that sees the world changing and breaking down around him. The words display a reverence for crumbling debris, long-gone, used-up people and antiquated concepts. 

Maybe it's because, sonically, it is so much more like the Gazer I'm familiar with from Phone Commercial, but "Bethany," which begins the second half of Fake Bulbs, is the track that most caught my attention. Despite being the shortest song on the EP it is by far the most impactful, both musically and lyrically. The inwardly-pointed anger and frustration of repeated failure is palpable. 

The thing never shuts up,
just lies there and tells me that my body,
is as worthless as more bodies.
I can tell.
I don't sell.
The stupid I forgot about,
I guess we're dating now,
I just bought it flowers.

Bringing the aforementioned balance to the collection is last song on the EP, entitled "Bloat." Not only is "Bloat" brilliant in its Kafkaesque debasement of the protagonist down to an almost primitive level, but this song features the broadest dynamic range whose brief moments of relative quietude provide great contrast and tension to the composition.

Given the pervasive negative and unsettling energy of both the music and the lyrics, at first glance it might be easy to discount Gazer as band who simply generates one dimensional songs dripping with dark energy. However, if you are willing to spend some time with both Fake Bulbs and Phone Commercial, you'll find a depth, an openness and vulnerability that is part of the human condition -- and it just happens to be tightly meshed with some powerfully explosive music.

Gazer will be the artists-in-residence at The Comet each Tuesday in August, followed by a brief Midwest tour.

The 12" FakeBulbs/Phone Commercial release by Gazer is available from Phratry Records and from Bandcamp.

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