April 05, 2006

The Seconds "Kratitude"

When Brooklyn trio the Seconds released their debut album Y in 2001, it struck me as a lesser take on the hyperactive math-punk that guitarist Zach Lehrhoff’s other band the Ex-Models had already set a new standard for when they released THEIR debut Other Mathematics five months earlier. After doing the requisite touring to support Y, all three members put the band on the backburner to engage in arguably more lucrative pursuits. Zach focused his attention on the Ex-Models, and watched their various personnel changes render their music leaner and grimier with each successive album. Bassist Jeannie Kwon works at an engineering firm while earning a master’s degree at NYU. Drummer Brian Chase ended up having the busiest schedule of the three when his other band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, rocketed to international acclaim in 2003. I didn’t lament the Seconds’ absence because the music that Zach and Brian were making in their other bands was far more interesting.

Although I was shocked to find out that the Seconds even had time to make a second album, I didn’t expect much from Kratitude when it arrived in my mailbox. When I finally listened to it, though, it kicked my ass and put a stranglehold on my CD player that didn’t let up for the next few weeks. It’s a shame that the album has garnered so little press, especially in comparison to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Show Your Bones, which was released a week later. Kratitude definitely rocks harder than Bones --- although, to be fair, comparing the YYYs to the Seconds is like comparing apples to nails. However, I also feel that this album builds upon the groundwork laid by the titans of drone, industrial and No Wave (the sticker on the album cover mentions DNA, Throbbing Gristle and the Theatre of Eternal Music) in a more convincing manner than the Ex-Models did on last year’s Chrome Panthers.

Opener “Moving” begins with Kwon muting her strings to produce pinging harmonics, until Brian and Zack seize control of the song 30 seconds later. Brian bashes out a 2/4 rhythm on his tom-toms that speeds up and slows down at will. Zack makes scraping noises that sound as if the wiring in his guitar has a short, and he’s violently wrenching out a metal object caught between his strings. The phrases “moving slowly” and “moving faster” are repeated in different intervals by all three band members. Brian’s stentorian deadpan, Zack’s lisping yelp and Jeannie’s petulant shriek are placed in stark contrast to one another. This song sets the proper tone for an album that employs rhythm, repetition and noise as its main tools, and treats melody like an afterthought.

“Sister8myson” is one of many songs on Kratitude whose lyrics consist of a single phrase repeated over and over again --- see also “Sleeping,” “Teeth” and “Dogsicle.” All of these songs derive their tension from the syncopation between Brian’s tribal drumming and Zack’s perpetually out-of-tune guitar. Like “Moving,” “Sleeping” speeds up and down at random moments, imitating the wooziness evoked by its only words: “Sleeping on the floor/feeling cold and tired.” “Say” takes the lyrical terseness one step further, as the band chants nonsensical syllables solely for their rhythmic and phonetic properties (“ooh-la-ley,” “peek-a-boo”). On the other hand, the vocals on “Scheisse” are so distorted that I can’t even make out whether they’re saying actual words or not.

“Teeth” does away with meter altogether: every disembodied voice and instrument on that song falls in and out of sync, until the result sounds like the Shaggs performing a séance. “Dedicatedtotheoneeye” is even creepier --- a Shirelles cover stripped of most of its lyrics and all of its melody, until all that’s left are slow, lingering chords that never resolve, and Jeannie hollering “BE MY BABY” like a mentally handicapped woman, caught in the throes of a desperation she can barely articulate. After this song, the instrumental “Lee Is Free” homage that closes Kratitude almost feels unnecessary. The Seconds have already spent the first 10 songs of the album stripping rock music down to its primitive, sinister and grinding essence. They don’t have to ape their heroes or their contemporaries anymore, for they have finally come into their own.

Dear Seconds,

I'm sorry for counting you guys out. PLEASE don't penalize me by making me wait another five years to hear from you again.


Sean Padilla

Artist Website: www.5rc.com/bands/seconds
Label Website: www.5rc.com

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