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Sicbay - Overreaction Time

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Artist: Sicbay

Album: Overreaction Time

Label: 54º40' or Fight!

Review date: Mar. 24, 2003

Hook-laden Impatience

Sicbay is what the indie-rockerati have been waiting for since Slint broke up, namely a band that can blow back the hair, deliver a direct sock to the heart, and tweak out the mind all within the same song. “Bask and Bubble,” from Sicbay’s newest CD, Overreaction Time, covers these bases and more. The verse threatens a kick-in several times, but its whirry riff keeps petering out and starting over. Then, out of nowhere, the chorus hits like direct sunlight, blinding, warm, and magnetic: “Made flesh / Turn to trouble / Sold fresh / Bask and bubble.” One has no idea what vocalist Nick Sakes is talking about, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like that third song on Tweez when Brian McMahan frets, “Past where they paint the houses / Past where they paint the houses;” the conviction of the delivery alone hooks the listener.

Understatement of the new millennium: Nick Sakes has served his time. As frontman for the Dazzling Killmen, he stood shrieking at the birthplace of the then-fledgling prog-hardcore movement, alternately spit-howling and whispering to equally scary effect. With Colossamite, Captain Beefheart came a’ knocking and Sakes and his friends from the Gorge Trio got seriously Out. Colossamite’s debut E.P., All Lingo’s Clamor, went nowhere critically or commercially, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a recent classic of intricate, in-the-red noise-rock.

Sicbay is different, and, to my ears, more vital than either of Sakes’s previous outfits. Their music’s biggest gambit is that while it clearly stems from the prog-ified hardcore of the Killmen and Colossamite, it’s also Pop-pretty. “Who Wrote the Night?”, my favorite track from the first Sicbay record, The Firelit S’coughs, is, like “Bask and Bubble,” unbelievably bright-sounding. Guitarist Dave Erb grandstands like a hero here, exploding elegant fanfares over Sakes’s pounding central riff. The new part that comes midway through the song sweetens the deal: “Who’s gonna save you now?” Sakes yells in tune. Erb is right there with an impassioned, sympathetic lead that sounds like fireworks.

Overreaction Time swells with bright moments like this. Just as the tricky verse rhythm of “Tocsin” starts to settle in the ear, the chorus roars in, and it’s so stomping, good, and catchy it should last forever. But after a perilous octave-drop, Erb flees into a creepy, pensive post-chorus. Sicbay is all about transitions that seem abrupt at first and mellifluous later.

“Smoke Stains,” one of the brain-grinding-est tracks here, boasts a snaky, Jesus Lizard-like riff that takes a long while to repeat. Sakes is mumbling something about how he “[feels] like a rock.” Shades of “Who Wrote the Night?” creep in as Erb luxuriates in a sweet, patriotic-sounding bridge. Most other guitarists would milk a line like this, but Erb knows it’s best to let go after a scant four repetitions.

As Overreaction Time’s final track, “Ultra-Dawn,” fades out, one is compelled to start the record over; it’s hard to leave a musical space this heavy, hooky, and just plain fresh.

By Hank Shteamer

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