Reviews

Dusk

Author: Adrienne Day
04/17/2009 | Pitchfork.com | www.pitchfork.com | Album Review
Whether it be a quirk of fate or a case of wrong thrice over (wrong place/ wrong time/ wrong sound), Ladyfinger (ne), a post-hardcore four-piece from Emoha, and the hardest rockin' gents on Conor Oberst's Saddle Creek label, have been largely passed over by rock critics and fans alike. Maybe it's that Saddle Creek devotees expect a band called Ladyfinger (ne)-- the (ne) not (thank god) a coy reference to Barthes but to Nebraska-- to have more in common with their navelgazing labelmates. That's not to say that Ladyfinger (ne)-- comprised of singer/guitarist Chris Machmuller (formerly of Bleeders for Treats), ex-Faint bassist Ethan Jones, guitarist Jamie Massey, and drummer Pat Oakes -- aren't searching deep within their hearts and souls for inspiration, but all that rock'n'roll bluster obscures much of the whining. But it is this place, where the power chords meet the emotions bubbling up within, that the marriage of lust and anger starts to break down. It may've worked a charm for Rites of Spring, but in 2009, an over-therapized, coddled youth have a myriad other outlets (hellooooo, internets!) to channel their emotions.

Dusk, the quartet's sophomore release, was produced by Minus the Bear's Matt Bayles, the force behind Mastodon's bruising, excellent 2006 album, Blood Mountain. It's a stronger, take-chancier album than Heavy Hands, Ladyfinger (ne)'s somewhat muddy and monotonous debut. Bayles' influence is striking, especially as Dusk kicks off with the promising "Over & Over", which shuffles crisp rhythm guitars and a subtle, melodic bassline, before shifting to a somewhat more metal-typical jagged three-chord riff structure and Machmuller's prepossessing howl. Machmuller's got pipes like Cursive's Tim Kasher, and there are enough musical similarities between the two bands to make a tour-pairing work (Ladyfinger (ne) have opened for Cursive on multiple dates), though Ladyfinger's dogged four-square beat structures are snoozy compared with Cursive's elegant math-y parabolas. Now if only Ladyfinger (ne) would take some chances (add some strings! Or a flute! Write a concept album!). As it is, you can easily trace their antecedents: a healthy dose of Fugazi, a dollop of Foo Fighters, stubbly dischordance swiped from early 1990s Chicago bands like Wreck and the Jesus Lizard -- but without their snarl or wackadoodle fury. (Or, we can only imagine, glimpses of forbidden fruit, AKA Lizard frontman David Yow's legendary performance-art set piece, "The Hairy Tangerine".) Ladyfinger (ne) really want to rock with their balls out, but sentiment keeps blocking their baser instincts.

"Little Things" is the standout track here, precisely because it stands out. Move over Motörhead, hello...Hawkwind? Replete with falsetto call-and-response woo-woos, "Little Things" is all power and momentum and baldface 70s classic-rock glory, and when the chorus breaks -- "If you don't intend to really let me go, honey, then pull the trigger baby free my soul..." you really want "honey" to get a grip. As opposed to "Plums", where some other Jane has taken her hopes and dreams and "...cooked them up with the cocaine, and put them into [her] veins there, and now they lie with [her] remains. And that's where they'll stay..." Which might be a lot more riveting if it didn't clash with an annoying, jangle-y backbeat. Ladyfinger (ne) are obviously a talented bunch, but they're trying to crack open the rock'n'roll firmament with ball-peen hammers, chiseling grooves without making any real breakthroughs. Which is fine in therapy, but not if you're rocking with your cock out. So to speak.
Dusk

Dusk

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