September 21, 2002

Five Second Flat

Crunchy noisy indie-rock with a hint of math is something that usually puts me off. I'm not a 21-year old college student anymore, and I've lost my taste for a lot of those kinds of things. That doesn't mean that I dislike the music; if something's good, I'll enjoy it, regardless of sounds or styles. It's just that the ratio of good math-rock bands to bad is rather small. Maybe my dislike of "math rock" stems from some childhood issues. See, my father was a college math professor, math was my worst subject throughout school, maybe I subconsciously hate my father.....who knows?

Five Second Flat didn't strike me very much the first time I listened to it. Maybe through years of Touch and Go and My Pal God-related releses, I've become immune to such sounds, making things seem so "been there, done that" upon first listen. Of course, the fact that there's been a glut of not-very-interesting mathy-rocky bands didn't help either. After initially dismissing Five Second Flat, I felt like I was being unfair to simply lump them in to the pile'o'poo that indie-rock's produced. I'm glad I gave them a second listen. See, these guys have a resume of other excellent bands (kilowatthours, the fontaine troups), and I just felt wrong about dismissing them so early on.

Five Second Flat starts off with "Oe," which builds up with a nice little cymbal flush. Insert trademark herky-jerky guitars playing off of each other. Throw in some singing that's somewhere between muddy and screaming. Extend for several minutes, and you've got the formula. Follow it through "Too Cool for School" and "I'm My Own Smartest Guy In The World." Take an abrupt halt at "Lou Diamond Phillips." Why stop right there? Because it's a live track.

See, there's something about a live setting that transforms music such as this from merely bland experimentation and studio noodling, especially when the musicians have some damn fine chops. What sounded like angular riffing and complicated guitar parts in the studio transform into a new beast entirely when played live. Five Second Flat are probably a band that's better live than in the studio, and the factors and variables and random weirdness of a live show can really add an extra dimension. Maybe it's that they're trying to go for a live feel in the studio, or maybe it's because studio recording makes these raw songs a little less raw, but Five Second Flat is saved by that live cut. Imagine a maze on a piece of paper. Sure, you can go through it no problem. Now, imagine yourself actually IN the maze. Isn't so easy to navigate, is it? It's the third dimension that really brings out the power and intensity and complexities of a maze, and the same's to be said of a band. Kudos to Five Second Flat for recognizing this and including a live track. It won't cure any aversion you may have to math rock, but it won't be a total waste of your time, either.

(P.S.--Go to their website at to download some really awesome live numbers, including the one included on this record.)

--joseph kyle

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