by Nick Hanover
I’ve got a longstanding love for garage rock, but like any once beautiful relationship, it can sour with overexposure and monotonous routine. Austin might not quite be at the “ohmygod if you don’t make up your mind about where to go to dinner soon I am just going to gouge my own eyes out with this butter knife” end of its relationship with garage rock just yet, but anyone who has ventured through East Austin or Red River has likely been assaulted by the sounds of dozens of garage rock groups, many of whom are competing to offer the loudest, most repetitive version of the form. I shouldn’t project my feelings on Hundred Visions, but on Spite I get the sense they’re as desperate for some new growth in garage rock as I am. I mean, the album is called Spite for fuck’s sake.
Hundred Visions first teased Spite with “You’re Gonna Cut Me Loose,” the title of which seems to be a cheeky flip of original Austin garage rock purveyors the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” The song is immediately palatable thanks to a distinctly ’90s lo-fi guitar intro, hinting at the hooks to come before the drums and bass and menace break through. I don’t know that you’d call it a single, per se, more that it was just the only track you could play on the Bandcamp page before Pau Wau Records released the album, but it nonetheless gave the impression that the band was aiming far beyond the walls of Hotel Vegas. The vocals initially begin as a bratty, near incomprehensible whine, the nasally tone of Ben Maddox cutting through the murkiness of the mix. The melody is instead left to the bass, crystal clear amongst the sturm und drang of the drums and a wailing, noisy guitar. But it all builds to a big chorus, where the vocals are still incomprehensible but the triumph in the melody is at least decipherable, only to collapse again in a noisy fit, the twin guitars taking up the musical whining this time. Ambitious but still appropriately low scale, “You’re Gonna Cut Me Loose” isn’t just a garage rock wake up call, it’s a kick to a pair of elderly balls that have shriveled past recognition.
But maybe it isn’t even fair to label the band garage rock anymore. “I’m Inoculated” has possibly gotten more play from me than any other track on the album, not because it’s necessarily the best the band has to offer but because it’s so goddamn irresistible. Essentially carved out of nothing but hooks, “I’m Inoculated” is LCD Soundsystem teaming up with Elastica, full of guitars masquerading as synths, shout along refrains and Maddox’s clearest and cleverest vocal turn. A little less hooky, “Thanks for Nothing” is Thermals-style pop punk seasoned with a Thee Oh Sees-level commitment to the lure of a good beat. Then there’s “198,” a surf punk song that wouldn’t be out of place in an ’80s Troma film.
Then again, there are more garage rock-y moments on Spite than not. “Our Ritual” in particular has the band pulling not from garage rock’s bountiful West Coast stockpiles but instead from the British end, and not just because Maddox does his best early Jagger impersonation. There’s a chiminess to the guitars and a white hot fuzzed out lead line that makes the song stand out as a kind of contemporary update on Creation’s “Making Time,” except at double speed and with a more discernible chorus. On “Dig Your Own Tomb,” the band even apes the Kinks with a stop start guitar assault, but it’s done in service of what ultimately sounds more like Stooges proto-punk. Meanwhile, the dreamy, downtempo “Blood on the Moon” has a hint of twang and enough lurking horror to make it apparent it’s coming from the 13th Floor Elevators realm of the band’s sound.
Point being, this isn’t the same three chords, played at the same tempo, through the same effects, track after track. Spite is a work that finds a band honing down the elements of their sound so well they can twist and reshape it as they please, remaining faithful to the base qualities of it but developing it into refreshing new forms on each track. This year has seen a lot of Austin groups inch ever closer to the national spotlight, but with Spite, Hundred Visions haven’t just thrown their hats into the ring, they’ve dropped in an atom bomb and the only thing that will survive are the other mutants.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover