Every band looks to the past for inspiration. Aerosmith looked to Led Zeppelin. The Black Crowes looked to the Rolling Stones. Modest Mouse looked to Built to Spill. At once a way to pay homage and find common ground, band members use their influences as a way to connect and bond with each other as well as the audience. How many times have you heard, “X band is awesome! They sound just like Y band.”? Arguably, these comparisons can act as setbacks for bands trapped in the mental closet of their mentors. Others benefit by association: “If I like Y band, maybe I’ll spend five bucks and check out X band.” STNNNG’s (pronounced “stunning”) Fake Fake balances on this tightrope of awesome influences with a vision of something different for the future, crafting an album of great, disgusting, flu punk.
Shellac, The Jesus Lizard, and Mclusky form STNNNG’s trifecta of mentors. Vocal sneers, debauched guitar lines, and deliberately punchy bass n’ drums attack the listener’s fragile ears. But don’t expect “Slave Ship” rip-offs. The LP succeeds in sublimating its influences, each surfacing for air somewhere on the album. Fake Fake demands a spin or two to fully sink in, but STNNNG carves itself a trenchant home on the amygdala.
The brand of STNNNG’s favorite bands manifests itself in Jesse Kwakenat’s brutal bass and J. Michael Ward’s punishing drums, which stick together like Velcro and push the music forward. The two trade in lurching, offbeat rhythms and primal, head banging rock, often changing between the two and/or mashing them together. The effect is akin to a teetering ship in nauseating chop, forcing the guitars to the rails to puke off the side. Heavy, driving, and prominent, STNNNG’s rhythm owns the band; every other element of STNNNG flounders without Kwakenat and Ward powering the vessel.
If the rhythm is the sails, Adam Burt’s and Nathan Nelson’s guitars are the sheets, trimming this way and that as their notes pull against each other in a piercing cacophony or mesh together in soaring guitarmonies. Taking a backseat to the rhythm and vocals, both men color Fake Fake’s ten songs with whines, squeals, grunts, chugs, and chokes, caging their crunch like the Gravelles. “The Spider & The Typewriter” ends with a gang of notes raping each other in a truck stop bathroom. Screams of pleasure and pain leak from overdriven amps. Like an aural train wreck, it’s impossible to ignore.
But the unavoidable grab of STNNNG lies in vocalist Chris Besinger’s dreadfully deviant non sequiturs. His random ramblings confuse when ingested one line at a time, but if the listener steps back, puzzles of human struggles and carnal thoughts piece themselves together. Take “Tactics”: “And this girl/ she codes it/ we go to bed/ spits it back out.” The tacit scene is clear.
No doubt Besinger learned some tricks from David Yow. Yow mumbled like an insane homeless man with trash in his mouth. Besinger actually pronounces, but the effect is no less delinquent. In his annunciated but practically incoherent talk/scream/gasp, Besinger hovers frantically close to insanity as he sputters crazy tirades into a fearful microphone, evidenced in his ruminations on his three deaths (in the appropriately titled “The Incidents Surrounding My Three Deaths”). Besinger’s lists of his deaths via bullet, bus disaster, and missile mishap, captivate with odd, macabre description.
Fake Fake’s six minute leadoff track “Grand Island, Neb.” rocks as hard as anything else on the album. Besinger assumes the role of several characters on a doomed lifeboat, switching disorientingly fast between the frustrated rowers and an overbearing, slave-driving captain. Watery guitars lap against the side of the boat while the bass and drums rock its hull off-kilter, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, adeptly setting the scene. The rowers complain, “This is like the worst job I’ve ever had”; “”I’m dying of thirst!”; “We’ve been out here for weeks/ We’ve hardly moved an inch”; and “This is ridiculous!”. The captain stubbornly replies with the same refrain: “Row! Keep Rowing!” The music picks up the pace as desperation, dehydration, and delirium creep into the minds of the seamen until the captain finally wins with his ironclad will and own false sense of poise.
Fake Fake documents a young band still rooting out its own distinct sound, and doing a damn fine job at it, too. STNNNG explores weirdo, difficult, rough punk, the kind that induces fevers and temporary insanity in its listeners. Besinger probes mankind’s ugly side, and, in doing so, congers scarring images hiding within the deepest recesses of the human mind. STNNNG coaxes listeners to row the river Styx. Just steer carefully; I wouldn’t want to row under STNNNG’s crazy coxswain.