Triclops! - "With SARS, I'll Ride the Wind" (Helpers on the Other Side)
For a minute there, it seemed like San Francisco’s Triclops! were on their way down an interesting but dangerously suspect path. The 2008 full-length Out of Africa alluded to the Duende and toyed with (but never outright indulged in) the idea of non-Western post-hardcore, or polyrhythmic punk from the Dark Continent, or at the very least a kind of direction you wouldn’t have expected in the wake of their Cafeteria Brutalia EP the year before. Cafeteria Brutalia was a sinuous, challenging slice of punk best left to the ears of Drive Like Jehu lovers; Out of Africa was similarly elusive in its time signature changes and fleeting melodies, but the overall package felt different. It was ambitious but also incomplete, a midpoint on the way to something more. It was just tough to tell what that “more” was.
What’s so surprising about Helpers on the Other Side, then, is not that this second album is so good, but rather why it’s good. If Cafeteria Brutalia was a raw, early look at the band coming together after years in the Bay Area punk trenches and Out of Africa was a tentative step in a new direction, Helpers on the Other Side is a stomp sideways. There are fewer chances taken in these six songs, but this thing exudes confidence front to back. You get the impression in listening that the quartet now has a much better idea of what it wants to do as a unit after playing shows together for half a decade and some of this material for over two years. Thankfully, it’s not something as potentially wince-inducing as marrabenta-core.
There are still unusual time signatures and non-rock influences in a song like “Brown Summer,” music vocalist John Geek once called “a mix of Middle Eastern scales (like a paranoid Zeppelin) with Deerhoof vocals and brutal, atonal thrash parts — but it doesn’t sound like Fantomas.” I’m supposed to be the writer here, but that’s a more colorful way of putting it. “Brown Summer” isn’t an exceptional case as it turns out, but it might be the best one in demonstrating the feel of this record. Pre-Vaya At the Drive-In and the six-minute-plus precision workouts of Jehu also remain good (but much less funny) milemarkers.
Geek continues his usage of vocal effects, but it’s always been a limited bag of tricks (pitch-shifting and layering his own vocals) and there’s no change here. The short intro for our recent Listed feature says “melodies are generally an afterthought,” but this album has plenty of instances that take exception, especially the final third of “Until All the Threads Are Skipped” and what has to be on the shortlist of their best songs, “With SARS, I’ll Ride the Wind.” It’s true that Geek may not have used melodies quite as often in the past, but the substantial amount of singing doesn’t sound forced next to the expected malcontentedness. This has happened before, just as Geek’s best Mark E. Smith impression on “Send Conan Home” one song later has also happened before. None of these are bad things because Triclops! still aren’t ripping these predecessors off wholesale, just borrowing the bits and pieces that suit them.
With just an EP and two albums, Triclops! have found their voice, and it’s an impressive thing to hear. Once again, given the Lee Harvey Roswell artistic treatment, there’s no visual suggestion that Triclops! have done something different for Helpers on the Other Side. That’s the best part of the record. What has changed is the band’s attitude toward the future of their sound. In a true carpe diem moment, they’ve consolidated the best moments of their earlier releases into something that could only capture them as they are, a gloriously fun and furious punk-rock anomaly. Do not miss this.