March 09, 2006

Sicbay "Suspicious Icons"

I admit that I’m not as familiar with Nick Sakes’ pedigree as I should be. The guy who runs the band’s record label told me that Nick “revolutionized post-hardcore” with his first two bands, Dazzling Killmen and Colossamite. I only own one Dazzling Killmen CD, the odds-and-ends collection Recuerda. If that album’s bludgeoning opener “Medicine Me” is any indication, the Dazzling Killmen were exactly what their name implied: dazzling musicians who wanted to kill people through the sheer power of rock. I still haven’t heard Colossamite, but they must’ve been pretty tough to listen to as well if Nick’s current band Sicbay is being touted as his most conventional yet. Although Sicbay’s music will never be confused with Death Cab for Cutie’s, you can still tell that Nick has mellowed out a bit over the years.

Sicbay’s third album Suspicious Icons runs through 10 brief songs, all of which are constructed from the same building blocks. Nick plays meaty power chords that are as close as the band gets to having low end (Sicbay lacks a bassist), and his gravel-throated hollering infuses his lyrics with an indignation that they’re often too terse and oblique to convey on their own. Lead guitarist Dave Erb nimbly plays winding guitar lines that are often more melodic than Nick’s vocals. Drummer Greg Schaal navigates odd meters without being flashy or awkward.

Occasionally, the band switches things up for variety. Dave takes a lead vocal turn on “The Rise of Phantom White,” and his sweet Clint Conley-like tenor serves as a nice contrast to Nick’s yelling. “Tears of the Siren” is the album’s lone “ballad,” with chiming guitar arpeggios that could almost lull the listener to sleep. Once those songs end, Sicbay doubles back. “Riposte in Pieces” and “Suffering Submarines,” the tracks immediately succeeding them, are the album’s most aggressive. Nick’s voice doubles in urgency, and the band follows suit by speeding up the tempo.

Suspicious Icons takes getting used to, but it definitely rewards multiple listens. At 26 minutes, the album doesn’t last long enough to wear out its welcome, but it doesn’t feel incomplete either. It’s a solid collection of odd yet propulsive rock songs that makes me want to delve more into Nick’s previous work. 54’40” or Fight, already one of the most consistent labels in indie-rock, continues its winning streak with this one!

---Sean Padilla

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