Meat Wave | Malign Hex (Swami Records)

When bands wear their influences on their sleeve, no wants to hear some guy approaching 50 “blah blah blah”-ing about how current day bands are ripping an old timey band off. A great example is Tongue Party. That band really channels KARP and I like it. Somewhere in a crevasse on the internet, someone wrote that they listened to Tongue Party when they wanted to “get their Karp on.”

For their first three records, Chicago’s Meat Wave really reminded me at times of Les Savy Fav. Call it jangly punk. This could be heavily suggestive, but guitarist Chris Sutter’s vocals also resembled a cross between LSF’s Tim Harrington and The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison. I loved both bands and both vocalists, so it’s not a shocker that I really liked 2015’s Delusion Moon. Their third LP, The Incessant, was the same but some new influences popped up. More on that later.

Swami Records was started by John Reis (a.k.a. ““Swami” aka Speedo”) back in 1999, and the label has served most prominently as a vehicle for the musical projects of its founder. The label’s first release was the second installment of Rocket From The Crypt’s All Systems Go compilations. The second was the first Hot Snakes record, Automatic Midnight. Some older folks *grumble* *grumbled* that Hot Snakes were just ripping off The Wipers. I didn’t care. Hot Snakes were and are awesome. In fact, it was because of Hot Snakes that I bought a CD compilation of the first three Wipers records. Over the years, releases from the imprint became less frequent. From the beginning, they had albums from other bands, but, since 2016, every Swami Records release had Reis singing, playing guitar, or both. In fact, earlier this year, it released in quick succession, the debut of San Diego imbreds Plosivs and Reis’ first solo LP, Ride the Wild Night. It hasn’t been a label that’s put out a ton of music made by anyone born before the 1990s. A few years back, Reis commented that sometimes the youth today don’t want to see bands who look like their parents. Or listen to their records? Maybe. Possibly maybe?

Since you didn’t ask, Meat Wave are adherents to the school where albums are recorded live in the studio in the same room. Together. No recording tracks separately and piecing them together afterwards. They do it live. The Incessant was recorded and mixed in four days with Steven Frank Albini at Electrical Audio. No Stanley Kubrick. All Clint Eastwood. It was a bit more abrasive, but a lot of the same. But on that record, two tracks really caught my attention, the title track and “Tomosaki.” It didn’t come to me at first listen, because Rick Froberg’s vocals are so prominent, but Meat Wave were getting their Hot Snakes on.

For Malign Hex, the recording MO remained the same. However, this time it was Meat Wave bassist Joc Gac behind the knobs. No one knows how long it took initially to record Malign Hex. Sure, they did it live again, but after recording the base album, they allowed time for “Extra instrumentation.” Now clearly, extra instrumentation is a subjective term. There is no rigid definition with pointed corners and sharp edges. There are bleeps here and bloops there, but what stands out is the supplemental guitar they added on. That’s the best kind of EXTRA INSTRUMENATION.

“Disney” serves as an intro to the rest of the record. Not an introduction, but an INTRO. With a monotonous voice over bass and a single drumbeat, then the guitar fills in and then things get loud. And we are off. “Honest Living” (which was the first single released ahead of this record) follows and it fits the mold of a classic A-side. It’s just over two minutes. Not saying it’s poppy, but compared to what follows, this is the most mainstream song on the record. It’s still great.

And so, begins a series of songs that makes you think that Meat Wave signed to Swami Records for a reason. Influences are quite noticeable. Again, I like it. “Ridiculous Car,” “What would you like me to do,” “Complaint,” “10K” are the ones that really stand out. Very good stuff. And not to be repetitious, “Merchandise Mart”shares a very noticeable and throbby bass from another band from Chicago. And then the album winds down with a seamless transition from the mid-tempo “Jim’s Teeth” to the OUTRO, the dreamy sedative “Malign” where we finally get lyrics that include the album’s title.

Meat Wave are not “taking up the flag,” “paying homage,” nor are they the “spiritual successors” to certain punk and punk-adjacent bands whose roots were in the 1990s, but they clearly know who these bands were and dammit if it isn’t refreshing to hear it done so well, especially on a record label from a guy who was in a few those groups. That’s a stamp of approval that hopefully more folks will take notice of. Meat Wave are possibly the best band in Chicago that those out of state may have never heard of. | David Lichius

If you are so inclined to jump an Amtrak to Chicago, Meat Wave is having their Record Release Show on Saturday November 12th at The Empty Bottle.

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