Somewhere along its evolution, punk rock got a little big for its boots and a little too complicated. The Ramones only needed some attitude and three chords; 30 years later Green Day write concept albums for 14-year-olds.
So step right in, in Double Dagger, Baltimore-based art-punk noise terrorists with a penchant for dry slacker wit and prolonged tinnitus. The line-up - bass, singer, drums - strips this rock business to its primal roots.
But this isn't your standard high school punk outfit: founding members bass player Bruce Willen and singer Nolen Strals are graphic designers by trade and their design agency Post Typography - seriously - designed the differing LP and CD covers. The pair even wrote a book, Lettering & Type, published by no less than Princeton Architectural Press. Always good to have a backup plan.
By all rational expectations, Double Dagger shouldn't work on any level. But on new EP Masks, their brand of angsty noise just does work and spectacularly so.
Opener 'Imitation is the Most Boring Kind of Flattery' is Sonic Youth gone postal, displaying the same cooler-than-you, arch ironic stance of 'I was So Bored I Wanted to Hang Myself on the Dancefloor', from 2007's Ragged Rubble album. You can almost see Strals rolling his eyes as he declares: "We discovered to way to mass affection is to repeat the best parts of your record collection..."
While most bands fill all that empty sonic space with a boring old guitar (why not try a solo too, you hippies), Double Dagger rely on bass player Willen and his four amplifiers: his four-string plucking goes from low, distorted Sabbath dirge to clean, melodic tinkling, often in the same song. Think Bleach-era Nirvana played at Black Flag speeds with no regard for US federal safety regulations.
Somewhat perversely, Willen wears what look like industrial strength ear protectors on stage (evidence here), suggesting he doesn't think that the decibels he inflicts on others should pose any risk to his own hearing.
Masks is softer than the more deranged moments of Dagger's last full-length album More - but keeps the group's now tried-and-tested quiet-loud formula throbbing along, with the same measure of raucous cymbals and atonal shouting.
The slow-burning 'I'm Sleeping With the TV On' is a heartfelt paen to love and loneliness approaching love song territory - albeit it one delivered via a crushing, screaming swathes of Husker Du-flavoured agit-pop. It's the sweetest avalanche of angry melody I can remember hearing.
Double Dagger sound like a school band rehearsing in a free period after lunch - only in a ear-splittingly exciting way: as if those hours spent listening to the very best of angry Eighties US new wave and punk bands was not wasted.
On 'Sleeping in Wolf's Clothing', Strals moans: "You're always going on and on... and on and on, and on and on..." He could be talking about any number of modern bands without one tenth of the attitude, style and anger Double Dagger generate from four strings, a man hitting things and another man shouting.
Masks is an all-night drunken party in your best friend's basement that you really don't want to miss.
8Patrick Smith's Score