December 07, 2002

Christiana "Fatigue Kills"

After eight years of releasing low-to-mid-fidelity cassettes and EPs under the inauspicious name Neck, Canadian do-it-yourselfers Christiana released the full-length Hydrofield of Myth, one of 2001's most promising and overlooked debuts. Christiana borrowed tricks from a dizzying array of influences: the frenzied jangle of the Wedding Present, the woozy distortion and quick time changes of the Swirlies, the arch dissonance of Mission of Burma, and even the sunny, swooping harmonies of the Beach Boys. This stylistic skittishness was further compounded by the band's reliance on brevity and speed; Hydrofield crammed nineteen songs into just over a half-hour. By the time one song nudged its way into your head two more songs had already zoomed by. Depending on the listener, this could be a blessing or a curse. I lap up all things brief, tuneful, and spastic, so I (of course) praised Hydrofield to the skies upon its release, and still consider at least half of the songs to be classics. However, many of the people whom I played the album for considered it unremarkable. It also didn't help matters much that the album was slightly butchered in the post-production process. The guitars were compressed beyond belief, and half of the backing vocals had disappeared, which unintentionally spotlighted the weakness of singers/songwriters Dave Rodgers' and Andrew McAllister's voices. Frankly, the un-mastered copy of the album that the band sent me when they were still called Neck pisses over the officially released Hydrofield from a great height.

Fortunately, Christiana's sophomore release Fatigue Kills rectifies the mistakes that were made on Hydrofield. First of all, the band set up a professional-quality studio in the comfort of McAllister's home and recorded, mixed, and mastered the entire album there. Because of such, this album reaches a nice compromise between the glossy sheen of Hydrofield and the rough intimacy of Neck's earlier four-track recordings. You can still differentiate the instruments from each other, but the guitars retain the necessary bite. The words are still intelligible, but the thin vocals linger slightly behind the guitars in the mix, cushioned by just the right amount of double-tracking. Second of all, the addition of a third singer/songwriter, Jonathan Bunce, to the mix seems to have increased the band's willingness to let their songs breathe. Fatigue Kills takes forty-something minutes to get through twelve songs, and because the songs aren't as short or speedy as they used to be, Christiana have seized the opportunity to demonstrate their new secret weapon: the ability to dance on both sides of the line between the tuneful and the tuneless.

The opening song, "I Cannot Share Your Point of View," takes two minutes to turn into the best song Unrest never wrote. It begins with a full minute of Dave and Andrew tapping the necks of their guitars to produce creaking, ominous drones. When the rhythm section joins in, the guitars then start playing arpeggios that don't even sound like they're in the same key as Jonathan's bass. The song spends another full minute drowning in Sonic Youth-style atonality before launching into a verse in which Dave calmly croons on top of a sweet descending chord progression. "Yellow Room" would be comparatively straightforward pop were it not for the harmonies, which veer wildly off key for split seconds before returning to the song's main theme. "Conflict is an Antidote" begins as a speedy punk song in which Andrew sings, presumably to an ex-lover, a string of words that would sound cliched were it not for the urgency and speed with which they're delivered: "You're deaf/You're dumb/You're stupid/You're sitting/You're silent/It's over." It then segues into a slowly building instrumental jam that climaxes with another minute's worth of grinding feedback. "League of Nations," Jonathan's first entry in the Christiana canon, is as conventional a song as the band can muster at this point, and at two minutes and nineteen seconds, it would STILL be one of Hydrofield's longer songs. The opening guitar chords of the ballad "Introduce the Subplot First" don't even begin to make sense until the bass comes in to tie them together, after which the song drowns in a sea of subtle, swooping whammy-bar histrionics. "Diamonds" is even slower and mellower than "Subplot," but the clean, gently strummed guitars eventually form sonic syrup as thick as any distortion pedal can muster.

Christiana begins the second half of Fatigue Kills with a rock instrumental called "Techno Sequence #3," a strategy that isn't as clever as the band thinks it is, although the song is still quite good. On album highlight "Pretend," the chord progression of the verse is so unrelentingly tense that when Dave sings along with the ascending guitar line in the chorus, it sounds like a ray of light forcefully penetrating the darkness. Andrew's "Magpie Eyes" sounds like sections of three different songs awkwardly stitched together: the first being another speedy punk song in the vein of "Conflict," the second a spoken rant that leads into possibly the album's catchiest chorus, the third a wistful prom-night waltz. Hydrofield would have taken three songs to get through all of the ideas presented on "Magpie Eyes," and this is the only instance on the album in which I would have preferred the previous album's deconstructive approach. "Elaborate Excuses" pays homage to the
drop-D melodic sludge of Hum, with a lead guitar part constructed entirely of harmonics, and ANOTHER minute-long feedback coda. "Embarrassing Virus" is a pretty waltz occasionally interrupted by a couple of staccato, nauseatingly dissonant chords. Fatigue Kills' closer, "Before Yesterday," employs only four sad, plainspoken lyrics ("Before yesterday I knew what happy was/But this time it's different") before going on three minutes' worth of exciting instrumental tangents.

Obviously, this album is not without its flaws: some of the songs are disjointed, the singing can still be weak, and the band uses feedback as a crutch to make their songs sound more intense. However, how many other bands do you know of nowadays that can carry the torch of mid-1990s noise-pop and still do it this well? Fatigue Kills is yet another solid entry in Christiana's ongoing saga of autonomous self-actualization. They've gained confidence and prowess as singers, musicians, songwriters, and producers. I have reason enough to believe that their next album will supersede Fatigue in quality just as much as Fatigue has superseded Hydrofield. You heard it here first: Christiana are on the verge of greatness, so jump on the bandwagon NOW.

---Sean Padilla

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