Every once in a while, you have one of those horrible record store experiences that leave you cringing. You walk in, settling into the multi-layered cloud of background songs that lend your favorite music market its unique personality. Then, just as your fingers are closing in on that golden album hiding in the rows of vinyl, a pretentious clerk puts on some art-hardcore noise that leaves your eardrums feeling like they’ve been massaged with acupuncture needles.
While I can’t totally write them off, Aqui is the kind of band that could — could — end up ruining your afternoon, depending on what that prick of a clerk plays off their debut, The First Trip Out. The album marbleizes a brand of synth-driven punk (which is awesome) with some horrible demon-spawn of punk (which is spastic and unbearable). Comparisons to Brainiac readily leap to mind—maybe Hissing Prigs in Static Couture released on a record that’s more warped than Bill O’Reiley’s sex life.
First Trip opens well enough, with a twangy, dark tune that could be the soundtrack to an Alabama swamp on a moonlit night. About two minutes in, it plunges into metal-hardcore riffs that spill over into the second track, “Roll.” The lyrics are undecipherable, and could have been recorded during a small earthquake—the vocalist Stephonik’s voice is that shaky.
A quick word about Stephonik’s vocals: despite the press releases insistence that it is indeed a woman whispering and shrieking throughout First Trip, it sounds surprisingly masculine. Nevertheless, she’s described at their live shows as “whirling possessed through the crowd, as in midst of exorcism,” which very much captures the emotional state she seems to be in most of the time. Live shows, needless to say, should be interesting.
The third track, “Please Send Love,” leaps in an entirely different direction than the first two, sounding more like disco-punk deities !!!. Bass-lines echo and fade into a spacey, acid-fueled atmosphere, and a synth keeps pounding out beats that accentuate the gibbering (there’s a lot of gibbering, not so much singing).
“Eye of the Battle,” “Incoming” and “Action!” are the unholy trinity of thrashy noise that follows. But at the seventh track, “Dawn,” Aqui decides to reveal a side of itself the listener hasn’t heard yet. The song is a spacey slow-jam, with echoing riffs that drift off between Stephonik’s soulful wails.
“Where is the Messenger?” leads the band down another musical tangent, one that sounds more like Jesus and Mary Chain on amphetamines, and is propelled almost entirely by rocketing bass riffs. The closing ” `Open!’ `Go!’ `Begin!'” is a vortex of pulsing synth-techno, with occasional shouts punctuating the beats of drummer Bob Stein.
The unique thing about Aqui seems to be the fact that it’s so highly unstable. It’s a constantly evolving animal, at one moment a raging, hormone-fed garage band, and at the next a seething caravan of disco mystics.
The back of Aqui’s liner notes begs you to “…sacrifice us. Burn us and use us as soil! Just make it grow. Please just let it grow.” Listening to the rough edges of First Trip balancing out its successes, you can’t help but keep your fingers crossed and wait for that growth to materialize. You can feel a surge of excitement running through this album—this is a band at play, doing something experimental and new. They’re mutants of the highest order, and even if their first album doesn’t turn you on, they’re definitely worth keeping an eye on in the future.
Braniac — Hissing Prigs in Static Couture
!!! — Louden Up Now
Dance Disaster Movement — We Come From Nowhere