Reviews

Heavy Hands

Author: Andrew McMillan
10/20/2006 | Revolt Media | www.rwsmagazine.com | Feature
"You guys aren't loose yet." Ladyfinger (ne) guitarist Chris Machmuller tells the curious cluster of Cursive fans at a recent Cleveland show. It's a brief interlude in the middle of their set, just long enough for the band members to find their bearings. A second later, Ladyfinger (ne) launches into another track from their new album. But with a focused sonic assault that fills up the room like a hand into a well fitted glove, Ladyfinger (ne) are far from loose.

Opening for their friends and Saddle Creek labelmates Cursive, Ladyfinger (ne)'s Cleveland show was moved from the House of Blues to the smaller - but more indie-friendly - Grog Shop. Far from upset, the bands took the venue change in stride. Headliners Cursive visibly relished the opportunity to play a more intimate setting, and for Omaha's Ladyfinger (ne), the show was a return to normalcy.

"We've been playing theaters recently," singer and guitarist Chris Machmuller says before the show. "It's just something to get used to. Huge stage, huge sound systems, high ceilings. You feel like you're lost in the room." Not that Machmuller is complaining. "Well," he shrugs, "I love the huge sound systems."

Ladyfinger (ne)'s preference for big sounds is more than apparent with the release of their debut album, Heavy Hands. Drummer Pat Oakes and bass player Ethan Jones play with the furious precision of a math rock band, while Machmuller and Jamie Massey attack with steady and piercing guitars. Ladyfinger (ne) takes both noise and punk and somehow strangles, mangles and shoves them onto a familiar rock blueprint. The result is an album that's dense as a slab of marble and as breakneck as a well-oiled locomotive. Ladyfinger (ne)'s debut places them as the heirs to Naked Raygun, The Jesus Lizard and the other dark and monstrous groups that prowled the Midwest in the '80s and '90s.

It doesn't hurt that the heavy hands of producer Matt Bayles were behind the boards. Bayles, who's worked with The Blood Brothers and Mastodon, has a knack for capturing a band's live ferocity on wax, and his talents suited Ladyfinger (ne) well.

"We flew him into town and set up a little show so he could see what we sounded like," Machmuller explains. "We let him do whatever he wanted after that. We weren't worried. If you've looked at his body of work, he's done some great stuff."

Released in late September on Saddle Creek, Heavy Hands is far and away the loudest thing the benevolent indie label has put out. But Ladyfinger (ne) is not an Omahan anomaly. While outsiders may view the city as a breeding ground for singer- songwriters like Bright Eyes and Azure Ray, Ladyfinger (ne)'s national emergence reveals even more depth to the Midwestern city's music scene.

"It's a lot like other cities," Machmuller explains, "Every city has their avant-garde, their experimental, noise, new metal, the screamo, the emo. You've got the whole spectrum." Case in point: before forming, Ladyfinger (ne)'s lineup did time in other jagged and noisy Omaha bands. Jones and Oakes in Putridscene and Machmuller in Bleeders For Teats.

"My group was a little more schizophrenic than and maybe not as dark as Putridscene." Machmuller says, "They were pretty heavy. They had grinding rhythms, discordant guitars. And I fucking loved them." Machmuller goes on to say, "We ended up coming together to do something a little different. Something still rock, for sure, but maybe not so much on the margins- a little more straightforward rock."

The parenthetical ne at the end of the band's name was a legal necessity, as unbeknownst to them when they formed, another band already laid claim to the name Ladyfinger. When the Omaha Ladyfinger found out, they had already earned a significant local following, and were unwilling to change. "Dinosaur Jr. had to do the same thing." Machmuller says, referring to the recently reunited post-punk band's addition of "Jr." after discovering that Dinosaur was already taken.

But it's somewhat appropriate. The addition of the postal code works as a reminder that, yes, Nebraska can churn out loud rock bands just as well as it can produce introspective guitar strummers.
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