Carrboro trio Natural Causes are synth-punk purists. In other words, they're always at war with themselves. Such is the genre's tradition: Before Le Tigre, LCD Soundsystem, et al., made the term synonymous with "mildly rugged indie pop" in the early aughts, synth-punk pioneers like Suicide and Nervous Gender sought to unsettle audiences, rather than placate them. Their art derived its intense gravity from the uncanniness of technological innovation and the conflicts inherent in its integration into rock writ large: guitars versus synths, artificial versus organic, man versus machine.
Natural Causes' commitment to restlessness is so strong, it predates the band itself—all three members worked together in the furious garage rock trio Last Year's Men (albeit in different roles) in addition to taking on noisemaking duties in the likes of Paint Fumes and Flesh Wounds. The group's first release, 2015's self-titled LP, presented an appropriately fierce clash of titans. With piercing synth jabs, keyboardist and vocalist Ian Rose sabotaged the fuzz-rock riffs of guitarist and vocalist Ben Carr, while drummer Geoff Schilling hammered his kit to pieces behind them. The band's second record, which is also self-titled, proceeds in the same fashion with similarly strong results.
While the men of Natural Causes spend a considerable chunk of their second record scrapping, as on "I Say Nothing," "New Hues," and "So It Goes," they're always quick to make up, launching collective assaults throughout. "Like It Should" pivots from a gothic surfer jam to an industrial assembly line; its second half finds Schilling's hissing thumps carrying along a springy bass line on a percussive conveyer belt, where they're promptly cleaved by buzz-tooth guitars. Other tracks, such as "Gun" and "Bad Luck Eyes," showcase the band's combined force by way of a more primal perspective: garage rippers guided by the reptile brain, rather than the mathematical mind.
The record's defining track, "Fashion Device" has a similar collective spirit, making for the perfect finale for the preceding half-hour tug-of-war. Rather than pit their respective riffs, synth lines, and drum beats against one another, Rose, Carr, and Schilling strut into the void in lockstep, saturating every square inch of sonic space with madness.
Eccentric, dank, and unrelentingly abrasive as Natural Causes may sound, its second LP is a party record at heart. Like its predecessor, the trio's latest effort resembles the soundtrack to an underground rager fueled by chaotic glee. There's no space for dancing here, no room to think: all you can do is submit to the din and revel in the band's explosive stunts. It makes for one hell of a show.