Destroy All Anti-Heroes
Although the Anarchitex have roamed the post-punk musical landscape of Houston for nearly three decades, the band's cantankerous barrage of noise remains far under the radar. Hopefully their newest and most chiseled release, Digital Dark Age, will finally crown them alongside other local veterans like The Hates and Mydolls as both survivors and sonic entrepreneurs, albeit with a more caustic underbelly than both.
Part of their raw genius sprouts from Anarchitex's messy and motley history. At various times, band members have been involved in projects far and wide, including Naked Amerika, Really Red, the Pain Teens and Happy Fingers Institute. These bands made their marks at venues like the Island and Axiom in the 1980s, Commerce St. Warehouse and Catal Huyuk in the 1990s, and Rudyard's and The Mink these past few years.
"The creativity of the early Houston scene had a profound influence," emphasizes singer John Reen Davis. "Hanging around Ronnie Bond's [of Really Red] store Real Records taught me a lot. We started out as a keyboard-driven experimental band. Now, we're a power trio with [a] vocalist.
"Yes, we've changed, but the changes have been the result of artistic restlessness rather than any attempt to 'keep up' with the music world," vows Davis. "We've never tried to sound like other bands. We've never even tried to sound like the Anarchitex. We find it best to operate without a plan."
While their brethren have receded into the dustbin of history, the Anarchitex have proven that resilience and fortitude, maintained in the name of rebel art without pause, can keep a band prolific, poetic and pithy.
"We remain steadfast by writing songs with eternal themes, like U.S. imperial hegemony," intones guitarist and singer Torry Mercer. "Songs about how shitty the government [is] seem to remain timeless."
Digital Dark Age aims for the jugular of the modern information society, with its entropy, pratfalls and false freedoms. Attacking at slanted angles with scissory irony, Anarchitex's wit is endless, emboldened by Davis's kitchen-sink realism and Dada style, which mingle in ravaging wordplay.
"Button on a Lapel" is a kind of anti-nostalgia ("I'm too old to skateboard / I'm too old to care") leveled off by urban haiku, seen from the point of view of a bus rider surrounded by blue-haired women and old men with Vaseline eyes.
Meanwhile, the buzzing dark thunder of "Blank Wall" feels like a meld of Midwest noise bands like Tar, the post-hardcore of Monorchid and Circus Lupus, and the rosters of 1980s labels like Rough Trade. The song lacerates religion, martyrdom, war and a future made possible by "99 percent of the people who do little more than take up space." It is both a warning and a creed.
"CaCa Convention" is a succinct diatribe against political machinations and capitalism — an easy target, perhaps — while Midnight Oil rhythmic rumbles and lyrical sentiments pervade "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" The images of trampled working-class heroes and ruined Yankee Doodle innocence invoke the sizzling and sweeping books of Howard Zinn and John Dos Passos. "Big Grey Boat" aims more internationally, cataloging the invasions of Grenada, Nicaragua and Lebanon.
In such accounts, laissez-faire capitalism and war machinery go unchecked. History becomes an atrocity exhibition. Yet, the band packs some humor, even when dealing with heavy-duty topics.
"Growing up in a segregated Southern city where the police chief was head of the state KKK, rendered Nazi scientists started NASA and the space/arms race/Cold War, and oil-company tycoons plotted world domination using the CIA to destroy nascent Third World democracies, actually had no bearing on our sonic disturbances whatsoever," admits Mercer with a sly smile. "Falling asleep to the constant whir of window-unit air conditioners, however, was profoundly influential to our sound."
"I Had a Science Fiction Childhood" is as demented as an early Ramones song: Mutants, electrodes and double-matinee monster movies crowd the narrative. It unveils the paranoid side of bubblegum punk, though the pop-culture detritus is broken, fragmented and chopped up by the stuttered tour de force.
Lastly, tunes like "We Are More Intelligent," not unlike the mid-paced growl of iconic Big Boys at their early peak (but sans off-kilter funk), offer plenty of attitude and bile, howls and aggression, too. It spits in the face of public good-spiritedness, but with mock vitriol. Such slogans bite hard.
The Anarchitex do not indulge in a rock and roll minstrel show, offer a redux sound of 1982, or forge a simple radical-politics looking glass. But they do revisit classic punk subjects with a vengeance.
I might be crazy, listeners can hear them say between the lines of songs, but I am an unapologetic product of the world that hegemony makes and maintains. I am a babe in the blackened iHeart of the New World.
And why is the Digital Age so dark in their point of view?
"The term 'Digital Dark Age' alludes to the impermanence of everything in a digital format," says Mercer, "If there is a future, folks there may never know anything about the times we live in now because some nitwit in the basement forgot to back up the files last night."
Former enfant terrible Johnny Lydon might be no more than a suntanned facsimile of his former self, but these pasty men have not suffered the same mind-numbing fate. Though casual listeners may mistake the album for a series of bitter and demented harangues, or as a breeding ground for helter-skelter explosivity, a taut tunefulness exists in the defoliated landscape of the Anarchitex's songs, where paroxysm and prose go hand in hand.
Anger is still their inexhaustible energy. They wield it like a baton against the blunders of the world, with precision.
"It's our revenge on everybody who ever made fun of us," Davis reveals. "Like the prom scene in Carrie."
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