For most, “turning the amps to eleven” is just a figure of speech. For these bands, it’s the Holy Grail: the ever-elusive combination of loud and heavy that makes walls shake and ears bleed. In the wrong hands – think high school buddy’s hardcore band or the greedy sap in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – volume oppresses, turning auditory nerves to mush, peeling flesh from bone (or was that a different Indiana?). In any event, crudely-raw noise troupe The Fay Wrays and their self-described “brothers in arms,” The Sleepover Disaster, have the right hands – capable of melding paint-peeling discord with honest-to-goodness hooks.
“This song’s about brotherly love, and what you believe in,” Fay Wrays lead crazy man Ben McEntee yelled at the mic, propelling drummer Eli Reyes into a cyclonic limb-storm of flailing arms and fire-squad worthy fills. A sloshed dilution of At the Drive-In, Fugazi and alcohol (hey, straight edge isn’t for everyone), the Fresno battering ram – on this night, stripped down to a potent two-piece – mowed through jagged screamo-punk tunes made more than palatable by McEntee’s possessed riffing. The guitarist put this particular Epiphone through the ringer, but it was thundering skins that gave heft to epics like the brooding soft-to-loud-to-louder “Scottish Lad.” Indeed, the rhythmic force behind both The Fay Wrays and Fresno indie outfit Rademacher, Reyes plays his kit like he’s hotwired to the Greyhound in Speed – slow to 40 mph and bad things happen. On the other hand, the duo seemed particularly in the groove with the middling tempo of Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time.”
Speaking of big time, The Sleepover Disaster might have hit as much had they emerged from the overcast grey of Dublin or Glasgow some two decades ago. Seeing as how this is the East Bay in 2009, they’ll have to deal with the not-so-sexy tag of “shoegaze revivalist.” Never mind the window dressings. Luke Giffen, Eric Peters and Vince Corsaro are hell-bent on atoning for every single one of this godforsaken genre’s sins. Remember how disappointed you were the first time you heard Loveless? Set opener “Friend,” awash in squalling shards of feedback and that oft-neglected necessity melody, single-handedly drowned out the entire misguided ethos of reverb for reverb’s sake. These distortion-glazed compositions never settled for noise as an end in itself, opting instead for hooky verse-chorus guitar squall served up at Spinal Tap-ian levels. In the truly towering anthem “Tremble,” Giffen’s soaring quaver of a voice floated on whammy bar freak-outs and knee-buckling decibels. It’s a masterful song, skyscraping in every sense. Yeah, you’ll look down at your shoes – but only to make sure your feet are still on the floor.
-Words and photos by Robbie Hilson