When: Sat., April 8, 10 p.m. 2017
Forty years ago, synthesizers were not considered punk. Supposedly not in the same league as guitar, drums, and bass, they languished as luxury objects, the novelty playthings of soundtrack composers and hobbyists and out-of-touch prog bands. Legendary stateside acts like Screamers and Chrome and Suicide and The Units smashed this assumption, as Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle did overseas. Now, synths are an unavoidable part of the American punk underground. They are everywhere, from the synth barrages of Ausmuteants to John Dwyer's weird excursions as Damaged Bug. Carrboro three-piece Natural Causes and Carrboro d.j./producer Sponge Bath have dug out their own synthy niches, their spirits seemingly attuned to the glorious, frightening experimentation of the seventies and eighties. Their recent split on Acid Etch Recordings is a caustic two-hitter of apocalyptic, punchy synthpunk, and a damn good outing. Both tracks feel unique and referential without adhering too slavishly to their elders.
The A-side, "Deirdre," from Natural Causes smears up fuzz and languorous vocals over a primitive, faintly funky rhythm. As with most Natural Causes stuff, you can hear a bit of the garage rock DNA of Last Year's Men, the band's previous, rearranged incarnation, buried in the instrumentation. But then you notice the buzzing, frayed bass vibrating through the lower end of the song and tune in to the track's wild percussion.
Sponge Bath's B-side, "Fashion Device," is equally addictive. On past releases, Sponge Bath has shown skill and flexibility at hitting the pocket on whatever style he decides to produce. In recent years, this has ranged from hiccuping minimal house to glowing, new age-inspired techno. Here, his production brings to mind the corroded industrial atmospherics of EBM greats Front 242. Grinding factory floor rhythms and jittery synth bass refuse to let up, and the vocals sound as if electricity is pulsing through every syllable. It's relentless and minimal in the best way. —David Ford Smith