Oakland’s Atomic Bomb Audition makes the kind of mind-numbingly loud, classically informed music that shakes the inside of your skin, and makes you check your pulse and your receiver to prevent either of these from blowing out. Formed in 2004 by Oakland Mills students Alee Karim and Brian Gleeson, their entitled “Eleven Theatres” debut on Seattle’s independent label Hector Stentor toes the line between math-rock, proggy metal, Italian soundtracks, surf, waltz, and pop. But don’t let the genre bending deter you; their approach to rock although owes part of its sound to the avant-rock leanings of NorCal bands like Mr. Bungle and Fantomas, this is a decided attempt to make avant-rock with a pop structure sensibility. The band is currently working on their second album and are set to rock you at 21 Grand in Oakland on Saturday, November 17th with SEAN, Hacksaw to the Throat and
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“The first time I heard their demo, I knew I wanted to produce it because after all the free jazz stuff I’ve had to listen to at Mill’s, it was refreshing to hear something with an emphasis on melody and actual songwriting,” says producer Norman Teale now a permanent member of the band who adds live signal processing via electronics.
Seated at a taqueria in Oakland with all four members of the band, they explain to me the genesis of the name. “Brian was messing around with the kind of cut and paste techniques that was advocated by William Burroughs where you just shuffled words around and see what you could come up with and the name Atomic Bomb Audition stuck.” “When we started the band there was this sense of the Apocalypse with everything going on in the world at the time juxtaposed with living in the Bay Area which tends to be an optimistic place that kind of represents the emotional dialectic of the band”. Apocalyptic optimism, hmmm.
One thing is for certain, the first moments on “Eleven Theatres” are sure to snap anyone out of their seat who has listened to bands attempt to mix disparate genres before. The “Creationist” starts out with a death metal riff that Cannibal Corpse would be proud of, and then subtly morphs into an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack that then decides to put you onto a merry go-round-carousel suite. After all this local fair goodness, the rhythm section then breaks downs into a psych-rock waltz chock full of funky organ while finally landing somewhere between space-metal and slow-core for an obscure Hungarian film that never existed.
Fusion, fusion, is what most critics will scream after reading this description, but this is where they are unequivocally wrong. “We are not a riff band, or a fusion band’ says Alee, “ Shit, I’d rather be in a Smiths cover band, than in a fusion band”. We make rock music with a cinematic edge, but always with a structure in mind”. According to the band, it discards any presumptions from listeners who want to put them in the “music for art school camp” “I met Brian while we were both working the box-office at Yoshi’s, (the premier venue for jazz in the Bay) and the kind of self indulgent noodling that I endured over the time there was just atrocious”, so I’m sensitive to that stuff, says Alee. “It was one night, that Brian got on a guitar and started playing a Melvin’s riff that I said, Hey, we should do something together”.
This attempt to make avant rock with a pop structure sensibility is what yields the best results on “Eleven Theatres”. The formula is patently apparent on “Wave of Babies”, a monster riff taken out of the math-rock cookbook which leads into a reverb drenched chorus so catchy it will make you go back to your At the Drive In and early Mars Volta records and realize why Spartan punk rock ideals mixed with the cerebral thrust of King Crimson makes sense. And also, why Mars Volta lost their way when they forgot that proggy tendencies are only good when tempered by rigor, structure, and yes, melody. Which is what makes “Eleven Theatres’ a different record from the usual genre bending mash up outfits that try to mix genres without revealing the integrity of each genre as such. “We never go into recording with this set code in mind of we are going to mix bluegrass into metal, and then into jazz, go Sinatra lounge and then add a Big Lebowski sample, the stuff we do all comes out organically, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
So what are they like live? The operative word here is: LOUD. “Yeah we turn up the amps and Norman records our signal frequencies and then runs them back through the speakers adding layers and sonic textures, it gets pretty loud, not shrill like glass, but LOUD like the Apocalypse.”