A Big One
~reviewed by Matthew Heilman
San Francisco’s Condor is trio of Post Punk revivalists that I can’t help but wax ecstatic about. I discovered the band purely on a whim, when a local promoter passed along a flyer to me at one of his previous shows. There in bold faced type, centered above a plain black and white photo of the band and their unassuming logo, were the words: “Dance madly in the Post Punk ashes of Joy Division, Wire, and Gang Of Four” and a secondary description of the band: No Wave Death Rock from San Francisco. Pretty heavy references, those were. However, these descriptions were in no way misleading. I went to the show and was immediately impressed with what Condor had to offer.
As a trio without a guitarist, I was skeptical as to how noisy and ‘Post Punk’ they would sound. But I needn’t have worried because these three sonic architects made MORE than enough noise without the use of guitar. In fact, Kurt Keppeler’s synthesized assaults were three times as dynamic and spacious than a guitar ever could have been.
The band’s live performance packed a multi-sensory wallop, but the band’s intensity and raw energy is perfectly captured on their debut CD, which I of course bought immediately after their set drew to a close. Condor’s music can be described as an angular collage of sound, with Josh Richardson’s thunderous jabs of distorted bass (which at times resemble detuned fuzzbox guitars – but infinitely more intriguing to the ears) and Wendy Farina’s intricate tribal percussion pounding with an equal blend of progressive finesse and primal ferocity at the music’s core. The pummeling and unpredictable rhythms rumble beneath layers of piercing synths, which sometimes utilize various ‘spacey’ voices that I suppose have an Electroclash vibe to them (but I am admittedly clueless when it comes to Electroclash so don’t quote me on that). More often than naught, hypnotic moody drones, brief climactic modulations of earsplitting feedback and other clever processed effects characterize the synths that appear on the CD. All three of the band members contribute vocals, though Wendy’s well-placed percussive chants appear only occasionally. Josh provides the darker, more introspective moments while Kurt’s vocals are more playful and animated. Both gentlemen are responsible for some fantastic screams, however, and all the vocal styles are enjoyable and complimentary to the band’s vast and dynamic sound.
“Pokerface” kicks the album off in high gear, introducing Condor’s trademark taut rhythmic structures that shuffles with a manic yet discernable groove beneath the seemingly impenetrable wall of grinding bass and synth fuzz. Kurt’s agitated tremolo vocals (think if Jello Biafra gave the guy from Devo vocal coaching) add the perfect surreal and frantic touch. The claustrophobic title track begins with a rigid robotic synth loop, which is soon joined by sharp distorted bass riffs and disorienting drumming. It’s enough to at first drive one to nausea, feeling as if you are trapped in some barely navigatable maze in a deadly old-school Nintendo game. But yet, you also want to dance to it. I had never really heard anything remotely like this before (that I enjoyed anyway) and that uniqueness alone is commendable, but despite how foreign and bizarre the band’s sound can be at times, it is also grows upon you like a menacing mold.
The band allots a few lighter, quirkier moments, such as the “Gleaming The Cube” that celebrates the pleasures of driving vs. public transportation users (or losers, rather). Condor’s New Wave roots (however frayed and disassembled they become in this band’s distinctive translation) shine through on this track especially and also in the two-minute Sonic Youthish cyclone of “Remote Control,” which is as abrasive as it is catchy. The band frequently demonstrates its distinctive sense of challenging grooves, but their unorthodox arrangements are tempered and easier to digest as a result of an equally strong fidelity to mood and atmosphere. Despite how meticulous and cold the music sounds, Condor is hardly devoid of emotion, and the overall feel of their music is suffused with an encompassing sense of warmth.
There are moments of dense seething heaviness, as best exemplified in the swelling trance-like gloom of “Song Of Mystery” and the ominous march from doom to an explosive, dizzying angst transpires throughout the song “Delay.” The darker vibe carries through to the album’s closing track “Suntan” which begins with a stuttering hurricane of feedback driven muscle and jagged drum punches. The song sounds like a sick twisted convulsion of Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose” – but with an intensified and more sharpened attack. Soon it segues into a disquieting New Wavish groove, where Kurt’s overdriven vocals add the final nervous ingredient. The track still courses with a seething sense of doom that eventually returns full scale at the album’s climactic finale.
I highly recommend this disc to fans of the avant garde, as well as fans of classic progressive punk and alternative noise. Condor is another band that gives me hope for the future growth of underground music, by embellishing upon what was extraordinarily good and powerful in the past. Seek this out and purchase a copy!
Condor – Official Website: