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Overnight Lows - City of Rotten Eyes

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Artist: Overnight Lows

Album: City of Rotten Eyes

Label: Goner

Review date: Mar. 3, 2010

A photo inside City of Rotten Eyes shows Marsh and Daphne Nabors face to face with a mic between them, no more than an inch or so separating their wide-open mouths. The photo makes it clear that they are singing – or, more likely, shouting – at the top of their lungs, in sync for the moment, but apt, in the next flash, to sputter pinball caroming call-and-response. They look totally charged about what they’re doing, as if they’re right in the middle of an adrenalized flow that makes concepts like happiness seem like an abstraction.

This may not be everyone’s idea of how to spend a life with a loved one, or to grow old gracefully or even to make a living, but there’s a lot to recommend it. Marsh and Daphne have been making music as the Overnight Lows since 1995 and before that as the Comas. They picked up a new drummer in 2005, namely Paul Artigues, an alumnus of Die Rotzz (and also, oddly, a featured chef on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), who helped them toughen up their sound. But for the most part, the Overnight Lows are doing what they’ve done most of their adult lives – hard, fast, antagonistic punk rock. They’ve just never gotten around to recording it until now.

That makes City of Rotten Eyes a definitive statement, the record of the Nabors’ life and efforts over the last 15 years and more. It’s a short statement – 12 songs, less than half an hour long – but punchy. In fact, pretty much every song is a sock to the gut. There’s a sharp, fast riff at the beginning, a minimal, scrubby set of chords – one high, one low – in rapid succession. There’s a bit of belligerent, sing-songy shouting. Everything is in 4/4. Everything is in the key of C (they call it “hep C”). Everything is fast and short and completely devoid of fat. And let’s use the term “fat” elastically here, to include things like melody, harmony and counterpoint. There’s none of that here.

The music is block simple, tommy-gun fast, leavened by lightning round interchanges between Marsh and Daphne. “Bad Times,” a holdover from former band the Comas, has the two of them swatting the word “bad” back and forth like a volleyball -- last one holding it is out. Elsewhere, they come together for the occasional shouted “hey.” And on the sly, funny, album highlight “Shut Up Looking at Me,” Daphne takes over singing to let you know that she knows you’re staring at her and stop it, OK?

It’s almost as if 15 years of playing together have allowed the Overnight Lows to distill punk rock into a Platonic ideal of speed, snot, sex and sarcasm. All the decorations have been burned away and all that’s left are these old pros sputtering jumped-up aggression at each other over a shared mic. Isn’t it romantic?

By Jennifer Kelly

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