February 10, 2006

The Mae Shi/Rapider than Horsepower "Don't Ignore The Potential"

Split LPs often suffer from the same fatal flaw that compilations do: bands tend to use them as clearinghouses for substandard material. Don’t Ignore the Potential, on the other hand, does what a great split LP should do. It’s a “meeting of the minds” that gives the listener small portions of music by two aesthetically like-minded but musically distinctive bands operating at the peak of their powers. The Mae Shi and Rapider Than Horsepower (who are from California and Indiana, respectively) are both nerdy, spastic punk bands with vocalists for whom melody is clearly secondary. That’s where the similarities end, though. The Mae Shi has a technology fetish that enables them to update Brainiac’s sound for the new millennium, whereas RTH have more of a hip-hop influence (particularly in the vocals) and place more emphasis on instrumental virtuosity (particularly in the guitars). If you’ve heard of one, chances are you’ll like the other; if you’ve heard of neither, this release is a choice starting point for both!

Opening track “The Potential” is probably the most dramatic song the Mae Shi has ever done. It begins with a descending chord progression played on a burbling synthesizer, atop which vocalist Ezra does some barely audible humming. Eventually, the hums morph into full-throated hollers as the other band members enter the mix, one by one. Once the entire band is playing, the music gradually speeds up until it becomes a pogo-fest reminiscent of early Ex-Models. Then, the song is interrupted by a series of brief, piercing test tones and Ezra’s voice gets digitally chopped into bits. The final minute of the song finds the band slowing down and replaying the introductory chord progression on guitars instead of keyboards. If there’s one song that can adequately sum up the band’s entire discography, it’s this one. From there, the Mae Shi launches into a series of songs that boast more keyboards and drum machines than anything they’ve done before. “Heartbeeps” is a mangled take on Jamaican dancehall, with screaming from Ezra that’s so unhinged you can literally feel his vocal chords shredding. It’s tough to decipher what he’s screaming about, but listeners who can will find hilarious and occasionally poignant lyrics. One minute, he’s espousing the joys of playing old video games at the “Nickel Arcade,” the next he’s lamenting a long-lost friend who died (“Massively Overwrought”).

Despite the high quality of the Mae Shi side, Rapider Than Horsepower get the edge over them through sheer quantity - 11 of this album’s 19 songs are theirs. Considering that most proper RTH albums have a similar number of songs, Don’t Ignore the Potential might as well be the fourth RTH album with some bonus Mae Shi tracks tacked on. The band, however, took a more humbler approach. They begin their side with a song called “Split LP with Mae Shi,” during which vocalist Michael Anderson sends shout-outs to each Mae Shi member by name in the chorus. Other than that, it’s business as usual for the band. Mike Dixon and Chris Saligoe continue to compensate for the absence of a bassist by playing fleet-fingered staircase melodies and brash power chords on their detuned guitars. Drummer Rob Smith bashes his kit so hard that the microphones start clipping, which gives these songs the kind of distorted drum sound I haven’t heard since the Microphones became Mount Eerie. Meanwhile, Anderson whoops, hollers, raps and rants about God knows what. The funniest moment comes on “Radio Activity,” when he brags, “I know ain’t nothin’ on TV/I’ve got ‘Cool Hand Luke’ on DVD!!!”

There isn’t a single weak moment on this LP (the 11 minutes of silence that precede the unlisted bonus track notwithstanding), which makes this an essential purchase for fans of either band. Both the Mae Shi and RTH keep getting better and better with each individual release, and this LP finds them at their peak of their powers. It’s obvious that both bands’ best work is still ahead of them. Don’t Ignore the Potential, indeed!

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.mae-shi.com
Artist Website: http://www.rapiderthanhorsepower.com
Label Website: http://www.safrecords.com

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