Siouxsie and the Banshees’ debut album The Scream (1978) is a beautiful rash of music and personal moment of clarity for yours truly, a rite of passage if you will. It scratches and burns with reckless fury, hammering drums and a snarling, brutal style that scares the shit out of most parents. It was also the gateway record that pointed me in the direction of influential bands like The Smiths and The Jesus & Mary Chain. True story: My grandmother blindly bought me The Scream cassette for Christmas, this is way back when media outlets like MTV and KROQ had high caliber DJs with taste — bringing the group into heavy rotation — and it stuck like a dirty band-aid much in the same way the Bitters East General does.
I’m also perplexed that after all this time no band has really attempted to scratch the surface of their recorded output and experiment the way powerhouse records like The Scream, Juju or even the brilliantly written Tinderbox did. Then again, judging by today’s musical climate one would think Joy Division were the only post-punk band that ever existed. But the Banshees were an unmatched force and created a sonic palette of dangerous guitars and menacing bass lines that today’s acts have yet to discover, until now. Watching The Bitters during SXSW was like a revelation — a sigh of relief equaled by excitement. Here’s a group of kids from Canada that come off so heavy and punishing while revealing a heart-wrenching, melodic delivery far beyond their years.
It should be noted that legendary punk gods Sex Pistols were obsessively followed by and looked up to by founding Banshees Steve Severin and Siouxsie Sioux. The connection between the two bands runs pretty deep, and I urge you to dig into their respective histories outside of this review. You can hear the Pistols’ influence and ferocity on The Scream’s “Jigsaw Feeling” and the swaggering “Carcass.” But the Banshees took that sound further into uncharted territory and channeled a rawness all their own that’s just as pissy, only ten shades darker. While listening to East General I hear that same artist-to-fan type of engagement between the Banshees and Bitters. Ben Cook’s (Young Governor/Fucked Up) notes cut like watery razor blades much like guitarist John McKay’s did while vocalist Aerin Fogel delivers a howling cavernous wail that reaches peaks only Siouxsie could command.
Fogel and Cook carry their roles with ease while sounding modern and unhinged — firmly grabbing you by the throat with opening tracks “Wild Beast” and “Nurtured Disease“. Cook frantically follows Fogel’s melody with chorused, distorted guitar chops on “Nails in the Coffin” then emerges later with additional backing vocals, a trait that sets them apart from their peers and displays just how well they can work off of each other’s strengths. Most of the record swims in a similar current but there are also moments that part the clouds. Hand claps and vocal harmonies mark a nod to the reverb-laden girl groups of the 1960’s during “Impatient As Can Be” while the cleaner cave-pop of “Travelin’ Girl” must have been recorded after a heavy dose of Sour Patch Kids and Fun Dip. What’s more surprising is how that song makes an about-face at the halfway mark. Carefully picked note-bending and heavy toms make way for a serious barrage of guitar wash and Fogel’s trembling wail. There are no soft moments here without leaving deep scars, and that’s what The Bitters do so well. words/ s mcdonald
MP3: The Bitters :: Travelin’ Girl