By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em
For all moneymaking purposes, the revolution is over. That branch of garage rock that declared war on the status quo by enforcing a band dress code has had its second coming and going. But true rabble-rousers like Ian Svenonius didn't lose interest when MTV did. As the front man for Nation of Ulysses and the Make Up, he preached social change through sexual freedom to legions of youth in tight clothes. Now with his new band, Weird War, he's once again trying to liberate the world--starting, of course, with our pants.
Their third album, If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em, finds the band tackling the same nameless, faceless Oppressor. Evil sports a chastity belt and the only thing that can blow it apart is soul-shaking psychedelic rock. With its manic electric sitar runs, "Grand Fraud" is prime fodder for your next cage dancing session. On a more subtle note, the stoner folk ballad "Tess" coos, "I wanna call you/I wanna ball you." Call him crude, but at least Svenonius is consistent: His familiar come-ons are comforting like a platonic friend you depend on for drunken make-out time.
Svenonius's sense of intimacy also draws comparisons to past, ahem, performances. Longtime collaborator Michelle Mae's big, bad basslines are still here (seductively so on the prowling "Moment in Time") but too often there's a greater emphasis on Alex Minoff's less interesting guitar noodling. A more tragic loss is the notable decrease in Svenonius's girlish, orgasmic squeals. This is a voice that, on the Make Up single "I Am Pentagon," quivered over geometric shapes like they were items on a Sex World shopping list. Here, his shrieks are toned down--and so is the innuendo. Where he used to artfully tease, "We were always licking the same spoon," he now offers the blatant moans of "Music for Masturbation." Where's the fun in that?
Cynics may smirk at the album's closer, "One By One," a Pink Floydesque track accompanied by Chairman Mao quotes. But at least the group acknowledges the difficulty of trying to change the world: "The peasant can only plow the land one plot at a time," Svenonius narrates. Despite his impressive libido, he knows that reaping its rewards takes time. Though if he wants to breed fields of new followers, he needs to step up his aural advances.