by Nick Hanover
Somewhere on the social interwebs there is an event page for a show featuring US Weekly that simply describes them as “the least punk rock people you will ever meet making the most punk rock music you will ever hear.” I’m not here to get in any pissing matches over what is or isn’t the most punk rock, all I’ll say is that observation is fucking on point regardless of your stance on hyperbole. The band’s debut EP Void of Devices seems hellbent on proving this from start to finish, pairing a Talking Heads RISD art college approach to dress and aesthetic (that fucking cover! why are all the rest of you Austin bands so fucking bad at cover art! study this one like a holy text!) with a sonic assault that serves as the missing link between the Jesus Lizard and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Void of Devices is a tantrum as a first impression, curled up tight and explosive in its mood.
I pick the word tantrum in part because a prevailing theme on Void of Devices is wanting something so bad you don’t even know what the fuck it is you really want anymore. That sentiment stands out best on the single, “Good,” where a two and a half chord riff soundtracks Chris Nordahl’s declaration that his mood is violent as he goes on the prowl for giggles and tail. When he gets a body next to his, all he knows is it feels good, but he’s less certain of whether or not he actually wants it. It’s hormonal anxiety over a zombie stomp beat, imbued with the confusing power of a boner at a church sermon. US Weekly sound like the kind of weirdoes who aren’t getting a lot of human touch, so when they do, of course their pants get a little tight and their mood gets a little violent. Amplifying that sexual weirdness is the declaration that follows: “DADDY WAS A LEATHER DADDY!”
Or maybe the rage comes from “stupid fools assuming shit,” as Chris puts it in “Grinning.” You’ve been there, making one kind of racket to indicate you think you want one thing and someone leaps to some other conclusion. Then maybe you fight or fuck or both. Since US Weekly have that harmless look of the over educated, since they look like “the least punk rock people you will ever meet,” they’re working extra hard to prove bonafides and intent. “Grinning” wields that like a chainsaw, cutting through bullshit and hammering the point home with glorious bluntness. There’s a “whoa ohhhhhh” hook to the chorus, but it’s obliterated by Nordahl’s blitzkrieg scream and Kent Hale’s shattering cymbals.
When there is vocal clarity it’s on the level of “Simone’s House,” a sludge punk narrative about someone peering in through the window. No longer strictly in a violent mood, Nordahl explains he feels like disease and then Ryan Fitzgibbon’s atonal lead line kicks in and you feel it too. The song is an eerie stand out on the album not just because of that clarity– which allows you to simmer with violent intensity alongside Nordahl and crew– but because it has a more deliberate pace, ramping up its sonics after a slow, murky start. The production gets a bit warmer too, there aren’t any of the red line VU meter breaking blasts Daniel McNeill allows in pretty much every other track. Like a torturer, the band wants you there for every painful twist and turn, they want it to be totally audible, every development visible from a mile away as you’re helpless to do a thing about it.
I guess the lesson here is that Ted Bundy didn’t exactly look like a serial killer but that didn’t stop him from being successful at it. If punk rock is about letting loose with things normally left unsaid, of smashing down social taboos and obligations and being what might be seen as “rude” in some quarters, then “Simone’s House” is the most punk rock moment on a very punk rock album by a group of people we have been told are otherwise not normally mistaken as being punk rock. I’m not so sure anyone will be able to think of US Weekly as “normal” people ever again after this, though.
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