There are a number of initial hints that Modern Day Urban Barbarians' The Endless Retreat is a political punk record. The simple, black and white hand-drawn cover art, depicting what looks like a phalanx of the skeletons of dead punk rockers laying waste to an urban environment, is a rather obvious clue, isn't it? Songs titles like "Slaves," "Pop Culture Casualties," and "Waiting For a Break" all seem to have this clue of failure vs. success, and I'm wondering where they're going to take this. And, of course, there's that band name. On opening the cover, about all I've gathered about this band from the liner notes is that it's a two-piece band, and that they go by the names of Devin and Jesse ZorTon and that they're from New York. Hmm, that might explain something.
In fact, it explains a lot.
Apparently, there's some sort of theme here--anarchy? A discourse on popular culture and the demise of humanity via a life of luxury? The fact that 9/11 was the beginning of the end/the end of the beginning/the death of New York and democracy? I have no idea, really--I can't make sense of it all. I can't tell if they're a serious political band or if they're a band who are trying really hard to be ironic and funny and serious at the same time, or if they're trying to be a band of shambiotic prophets who are giving electronic warnings to the world via really amateurish playing. (Imagine, if you will, godhedsilo's very first practice, and you'd not be far off the mark.) It could be all of these things, it could be none of these things. I really can't tell you.
What I can tell you, though, is that I get the feeling that perhaps the Modern Day Urban Barbarians are better than they allow themselves to be. Though most of the album is a plodding, lo-fi "you are there" kind of recording that is nothing short of terribly muddy, it's not until the final song, "Statement," that everything gels for Modern Day Urban Barbarians. The bad playing and recording and lyrics and everything just merge into this one cohesive, beautiful statement, based upon that one unforgettable nightmare day in September, and a reflection upon life comes out of it all: "We could all live a little more and if you don't want to what are you here for?" they sing, and it's a touching truism that really rings deep and true with me. (In fact, all of their lyrics are GREAT. It's just the music that's not.)
Though I somewhat think that they've got a little bit of put-on in their blood ("I could let you in on a little trick/I'm actually smarter than all of this"), I really think there's something to Modern Day Urban Barbarians. They've got some excellent lyrics, even if the music betrays their brilliance, and, as stated before, I wonder if their roughshod amateurism might be a bit of a hoodwink. I can see where they're going with this, and with a little bit of work (aka PRACTICE), they could really have something. Still, despite all of the things that I hear that's wrong with The Endless Retreat, I still cannot write it off as a bad record--there's this inexplicable appeal that I like, and I just have this hunch about them. What it is, I can't say, but there's a feeling of imminent greatness that could be theirs soon.
Depending, of course, if they want it.