If you've been secretly hoping that Des Ark and Bellafea--the Triangle's two fem-front/boy-back bands that also happen to be two of the Triangle's absolute best--would end up being intra-city rivals, you'll doubtlessly greet this review with disappointment. Indeed, instead of attempting to drum up rival factions and followings, these two co-ed duos have taken their obvious similarities--a lanky dude drummer with math-rock tendencies and a short, black-haired frontwoman with a huge voice--and put them to convincing use by way of one of this year's best splits.
Des Ark is Durham's Aimee Argot and Tim Herzog, relative veterans in the Triangle compared to Bellafea, the Chapel Hill-via-Wilmington duo of Heather McEntire and Nick Buchanan. Never fear, though. This isn't one of those splits, where one great band drags its friend's nebulous, unpracticed outfit out of the closet for a bit of premature exposure. Both of these bands are ready for and deserving of the recognition this split and upcoming albums garner (Bellafea has an EP due on Pidgeon English in two months, and Des Ark's debut will be out in 2005 on Bifocal Media).
Both one-track sides point to a single dictum: These are uncommon voices singing uncommonly able, uncompromising and articulate punk songs. Full of sturm und drang dynamics riding the big, empathetic drumming of their masculine counterparts, these Spartan lineups manage Titanic music that's as overwhelming as it as compelling. Moments of perfect dissonance define Des Ark's back-and-forth "Send Jolly to Raleigh," Herzog's drums tumbling out of time and Argote's guitar fumbling away from the perfect note and to the right one. Side B finds Bellafea's "Stranger" drifting in on a sheet of subdued violin grate, cymbals rolling as a distant electric guitar plods along. McEntire beautifully stabs at careful observations ("Dawn is a shaky wall to climb. Dusk is a pit to fall.") before erupting with woebegone questions howled over furious, breakneck guitar strokes: "Will the storm drive me from the sea, from the bridges and drowning?"
It's uncanny, how well each part of each duo connects. Herzog and Argot have start-and-stop dynamics mastered, blaring with the power and fit of something plucked out of the Steve Albini stable. McEntire's guitar and Buchanan's snare seem inexorably connected, each knowing where the other is headed before the direction is stated, much less implied.
Herein is the evidence that this area isn't too small for two bands of the same mold, and that the mold has room for the gaps to be filled with individuality, interpretation and idiosyncrasy aplenty.