by Nick Hanover
A shitload of Austin punk bands sound like they’re stuck in the ’80s, mining Black Flag refuse for the last remnants of nutrition, stuck on the wrong chapter of Our Band Could Be Your Life. But was hardcore ever anything but a dead end? Can’t aggression be worked out in other ways than throwing sweaty bodies against each other until a sound rings out? You can blame Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes for the sad sack scene analytics because their debut EP Demoage has me remembering that time when SST wasn’t just synonymous with Black Flag but with Sonic Youth, too.
Running a little over 15 minutes in just four tracks, Demoage nonetheless sounds pretty fucking epic in all the right ways, ditching breakneck speed in order to get heavier, pummeling your ears not with thuggish low end but with anti-guitar heroics and unstoppable drums. The EP pulls a bit of a fake out with “Hot Shoes,” an opener that suggests Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes are a pair of Steve Albini acolytes rather than Sonic Youth worshippers but that just goes to show the diversity of their influences. Over a vicious guitar riff, Steve Pike sneers and mocks before declaring he’s “So fucking bored,” of his friends, of drugs, of the whole damn town. Jacob Cruz forgoes the hi-hat altogether on the drum track, sticking to a monstrous tom beat with crash emphasis; between that lack of treble on the percussion and the guitar’s devastating bass tone, the moments where Pike lets a harmonic ring out and Cruz skips a beat pack the punch of a horse hoof to the face. Constant downstrummed power chords are fun when you’re 14, but Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes are out to prove grown ass adults get their kicks from dynamics.
The heaviness gets dialed back quite a bit for “Under the Continental Divide,” the EP’s longest track and also its most melodic. Here Pike’s Thurston Moore devotion moves front and center, showing that he can pull off the slacker tunesmith persona as well as he can the deranged sonic sociopath. There’s even some “whoo whoos” on the chorus, and the guitar offers up a nice counter melody to Pike’s vocals as well as to itself. The countless layers of distortion make the guitar pretty hazy but that only serves to enhance the dreamy vibe that much more, giving it the quality of a radio signal you can’t place. Cruz is dialed back here as well, mostly sticking to a static beat until the noisy interludes surface, at which point he once again uses dropped beats to emphasize his partner’s noisy flourishes.
But on “Stumble,” Cruz’s playing is allowed to take on more of the spotlight as Pike offers up a more formless guitar contribution. “Stumble” could use a little more melodic substance, but Cruz’s playing is dynamic enough to keep the track engaging, from the martial snare rolls at the start to the tom fills anchoring the chorus. That said, the way the pair sync up their talents on EP closer “Smoke” is far more interesting, especially since it has the duo moving at a more aggressive tempo than the rest of the EP. It’s also a convenient merger of Pike’s vocal styles, combining the bedroom melodies of “Under the Continental Divide” with the acidic venom of “Hot Shoes.”
The point here is that in just four tracks Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes offer up more diversity than the entire catalogs of some of their ATX punk peers. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with hardcore, but I’m all for well-balanced diets, and Demoage gives me the feeling that by the time they get around to recording an entire LP, Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes will be offering up an entire musical food pyramid.
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