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Features and Reviews Splendid vs. The Ed Kemper Trio
5/28/2003Andrew MagilowThe Ed Kemper Trio
How To Win A Sword Fight
(Yawn) If you're easily sickened, The Ed Kemper Trio may not be your kinda band. Tastelessly named after a notoriously brutal Santa Cruz serial killer, this Trio isn't into strangling hitchhiking coeds -- they'd rather wrap a noose of abrasive math rock around your neck and apply plenty of pressure. Hope you don't bruise too easily...

While they're based in the not-very-musical town of Montgomery, Alabama, the Trio are more obviously aligned with the heaving rock sound of Chicago. How to Win a Sword Fight will fit nicely next to your Shellac, Honor Role and Jesus Lizard records, as its dense guitar-driven anthems hearken back to mid-'90s post-rock and its noisy hardcore offshoots. It's obvious that the Ed Kemper Trio are strongly drawn to '90s Touch & Go albums and sport an apparent admiration for all things Albini. However, they haven't limply prostrated themselves on the Altar of Steve, relegating themselves to Big Black/Rapeman ripoff territory. Rather, the band digests and processes classic math rock components and then spits out its own chunky, odd time signatures and unpredictable melodic changes. "What's New No. 2?" begins with a spirited musical tantrum that eventually slams into a wall of shrill feedback. Schizophrenic and relatively indecipherable vocals jostle for position before the entire band slows down for a slow-burning finale. There may indeed be a touch of murderous serial killer curiosity on such tracks as "Bleeding Strategy", "A Blow to the Head", "Killed for This" and the creepy "Liquid Flesh"; "Flesh" begins with a spoken sample in which an anonymous voice decrees that the guilty will be put to death via the electric chair. If the tune's jerky rhythms and angst-ridden vocals don't make your brain ooze out of your nostrils, they'll at least send a warm tingling through your body; it's the Trio's musically challenging scum rock in prime form. "Bleeding Strategy"'s repetitive vocals bring to mind any number of Unwound tunes, while the rattling guitar and extra-tight percussion could back David Yow without any fan blinking an eye.

While the Trio excels at bashing out atonal rhythms and ear-splitting notes, they're not without a sense of humor. "Pain in Sound Experiment" begins with a tongue-in-cheek sample -- an anonymous geek burnout says, "RUSH. I listen to RUSH and that's all I listen to, pretty much..." There's also a handy bit of insect avoidance advice on "How to Escape Killer Bees". Easily one of the best tracks on the album, "Escape"'s buzzing guitar notes work their way through a hammering rhythm section that'll leave you with some nasty welts and a real appreciation for the band's aural intensity.

The Ed Kemper Trio's sincere, hard-hitting math rock approach has its limitations, and certainly rings a familiar chord on several tunes, but its tasty delivery and mind-blowing changes prove that you don't necessarily have to be creative geniuses to make great music. Want to book one hell of a kick ass concert? Put The Ed Kemper Trio, The Oxes and 400 Blows on one bill; you'll have kids with fistfuls of money lining up for blocks.

However...if you're sitting on the side of a dusty Alabama road, angling for a free ride to Montgomery, and Glenn, Kenny and Vonda pull up and beckon you towards their van, think long and hard about accepting a ride. A little serial killer vibe goes a long way.

-- Andrew Magilow