Post-punk is a catchall that’s too often just a cover-up for moody pop. Something about bands that all took a knee at the Joy Division alter left us with a default mode that was more about brittle, dry desperation and clipped guitar phrasing than it was about a voracious appetite for ideas that fell outside of pop’s purview. While angst and angles are in no short supply, I’ve been quite drawn to the current crop of bands that seem to understand the impulses that drove artists to push past both the overstuffed end of the ‘70s and the razored riffs that sprung up as a reaction. Bands like J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest, The Green Child, Nightshift, Chronophage, and Naked Roommate have introduced a sense of space, a push away from the need for guitars as grist, and an appetite for off-kilter rhythm. It’s no surprise that quite a few of these have ended up on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind, and like those that signed on before them, Baltimore’s (via Melbourne) Smoke Bellow have fostered the spark of discordant pop on their latest album Open For Business.
Droning keys hum like machinery, rhythms teter from side to side, dancing with the disjointed meter of a sugared toddler. Like many of the best of the original gen (think Young Marble Giants, ESG, The Raincoats, Pylon), the band isn’t afraid of injecting a cold vapor of silence and using it to make space, never stuffing tracks full of sound. Instead they’re set on building a Rube Goldberg pop landscape that hops through hoops of lock groove repetition, flanneled sax bleats, pleathered gyrations of bass, and afrobeat guitar. Smoke Bellow embrace a winking glee — a cocked eyebrow of voracious pop consumption that throws what they need into the blender and strains out a sinewy stew into the speakers. Lyrically the band pairs their leftfield fodder with surrealist tales of body swap soft sci-fi, self-care mantras, and self-conscious tumbles. Should your year need a record that’s doused in dry-ice and licking at the outlets, this one should do the trick, get it on the shelf!
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