The Illegal Wiretaps are probably my overall favorite band in Houston for several reasons. The fact that they produce a mind-boggling amount of music is part of it. I've lost count, but Underdosed is something like their 84th release, and while they're known for their shorter works it's still an impossible pace to keep up. You can spend a week listening to them on shuffle and not repeat a single track.
But more than that is how the music evolves into an ever more mature darkness. Imagine if Trent Reznor had just been a man on the side of the road rambling about aliens with a Casio on autoplay next to him. All that same genius and pain but locked in a mad free form that respected only the most easily broken of boundaries. That's Illegal Wiretaps on a good day, but Underdosed is them on a great day.
Rare for the band, it's almost an LP, clocking in at eight tracks. Immediately things get metal with "Wife Beater," a frantic, threatening, yet apologetic rant straight from the mind of a terrible domestic abuser. It's a weird track that is for the most part repetitive the way falling out of a plane is repetitive until you hit the ground.
It's also in the running for most despairing Houston lyric ever penned: "I don't care what you pray for because I'm the only prayer that will ever be answered." That is some straight up Joker Killing Joke stuff right there. I'm kind of surprised typing it while connected to the Internet didn't automatically summon CPS to my doo...hold on.
Sorry, just a Girl Scout. Moving on.
In many ways Underdosed shows Illegal Wiretaps at their most pop-friendly, though I will admit that's akin to calling Tear Garden more pop than Legendary Pink Dots and Skinny Puppy, but you get the idea. Song like "Like Moths," "Moloch" and "In Sodom" could easily be called straight-up electrogoth club hits. That last one especially calls to mind classic Numbers fare like Covenant's "Call the Ships to Port." The songs somewhat lack the deep production of most club goth, but it's a bigger sound than the band usually employs.
My personal favorite from Underdosed was "Menagerie." Look I'm happy to hear Stephen B. Wyatt play around with something more closely approximating mainstream acceptability. No matter how many 20-year-olds yell it at you, there's nothing wrong with a band branching out. The Beatles did it, Nirvana did it and it's given us so much joy that they did. [Disclosure: Wyatt is a fellow HP Music contributor -- ed.]
That said, I always hope for that the singular madness that is the Illegal Wiretaps will always be waiting there on the edges of releases to summon those of us who need a delusion as well as a jam. "Menagerie" is a maybe the best Wiretaps track I've ever heard; certainly it's the most representative of what they produce. It's disturbing, lyrical and so weirdly poetic you don't even notice it's nearly six minutes long.
The melody is somewhere between "I've got to dance" and "I've got to hide so no one can see me." Its confusing brilliance throws you off your stool because you can't predict the rest of the song.
Underdosed is available now on the Illegal Wiretaps' BandCamp.
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