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Punk Debunked: Criminal Code and Vexx Find Exceptions to Any Alleged Rule 

Wednesday, Mar 26 2014
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Quick tempos tend to stifle the rhythmic complexity of rock bands. Meter subdivided so many times demands consistent reminders of the downbeat, and that typically doesn't leave room for much syncopation in between. For punk, an impoverished rhythmic vocabulary doesn't matter so much, because technicality isn't the key musical ingredient for whipping the kids into a senseless frenzy — speed and power are. Of course, that sounds like a Law of Punk, so now it must be debunked. Such generalizations may contain bits of truth (the devolution of syncopated rhythms over the development of punk is undeniable), but as a heavy-handed aphorism they're most useful as something to disprove.

Washington state punk bands Criminal Code and Vexx — whose tour brings them to 1-2-3-4 -Go! Records on Sunday, March 30 — defy the notion that technical proficiency neuters power and speed. Tacoma quartet Criminal Code's studied fills charge the margins between sections. Crisp rhythmic minutiae busy the moments between stressed beats. Icepick guitar leads thrust and plunge after grand crescendos of cymbal swells and rolls. All of that and yet, Criminal Code is still a menacing punk band, admirable for its handle on raucous shouts and tense riffs, too. None of the exceptional technicality is donned like a gimmick. Rather, it sounds like Criminal Code grew into a tight unit sometime ago, and just kept practicing anyway.

Vexx doesn't surge ahead and down-stroke dour riffs so much as stagger around and unfurl fetid guitar squeals indiscriminately. The Olympia quartet's debut album — recently released by formidable new local record label Grazer — testifies to the merits of a band just falling apart. Unwieldy guitar leads descend into snake-pit bends and writhe about while skittish drums crash and clamor according to little set patterns. Atop it all, impeccable vocal delivery ascends from shifty mumble to siren wail and breathes form into every riotous song. Vexx flirts with punk convention just enough to emphasize the band's clean break from it.

The members of Texan trio Bad Sports — set to appear on Tuesday, April 1, at the Knockout with Dancer and Primitive Hearts — account for some of the best punk-sullied power-pop and pop-tinged garage rock to come out of the Austin/Denton area in recent years. Bad Sports' members also toil in OBN IIIs, Video, High Tension Wires, and more. As Bay Area proponents show, and these Texans make abundantly clear, garage bands are eager to please with prolific output. It's the discography equivalent of waiting on stage before performing an encore — and then playing three more songs. Though it can feel like a desperate plea to hold listeners' attention in an age of shortened press cycles and shorter attention spans, the voluble output of Bad Sports and affiliated acts also speaks to the democratized music industry. The scene's many records appear on buzzy record labels, but they're still tiny record labels, and it's impressive how much hype and attention a slew of low-profile releases can amount to in our supposedly crumbling music industry.

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Sam Lefebvre

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