It’s been a while since I last picked up a grind album to review. Actually, this is the first time I picked one up for myself. The last time was a… well, let’s call it a gift from a wise mentor. Regardless, it’s been far too long. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce Milwaukee’s latest grind export, Lifes, and their debut full-length Treading Water.
Before I get to the matter of what this band actually sounds like, I want to take a moment to talk about what Treading Water represents. Instead of focusing on a general trend of social injustice and political bullshittery that all too many grind bands pursue, Lifes are all about stumbling throughout the various lives in which we involve ourselves on a daily basis, failing at most of it, and doing whatever we can to keep our shit together. According to their bandcamp bio, “Music can’t save us, but it can help us cope.” I’ve heard music described this way countless times before, but for whatever reason in this instance it resonated. For that, I want to thank Lifes.
Considering the subject matter at hand, it makes a lot of sense that Treading Water is a chaotic affair. Utilizing only a bass guitar, a drumset, and dual vocals, Dave Rudnik (bass/vocals) and Zak Holochwost (drums/vocals) manage to conjure an overwhelming cacophony of squeals, feedback, blips, booms, crashes and bangs to go with their punkish grind. Most songs fall under the two minute mark, and half of those under one minute, for a total runtime of twenty-four minutes. This is a short, visceral, emotional journey across the toughest aspects of the modern human experience.
Being a grind album, Treading Water packs in riffs all over the place that only ever last long enough for the brain to recognize that they were indeed riffs. “Hours and Minutes,” “Skin in the Game,” “Tragic Procession,” “Shameless” and “Walking Brick Walls” contain the best of these as they have the most structure, but they don’t meet the standard established by more experienced grinders like Cripple Bastards or Napalm Death. Even the good riffs don’t repeat often enough or stick around long enough, and therefore I fail to recall any offhand. To fill out the space Lifes inject a cornucopia of sounds ranging from dial tones (“Bitter Cold”) to playback of classic oldies radio (“Facts of Life”). While this does add a considerable helping of personality to the piece, it also breaks apart the music instead of adhering the album into a cohesive whole.
Yet, I can’t help but feel enamored by its charm. Dave and Zak appear every bit as dedicated and passionate as their unhinged vocal deliveries and acrobatic instrumental performances suggest. Regardless of my feelings towards the album’s songwriting from a technical standpoint, every second is dripping with sincerity. The chemistry between this dynamic duo innervates each track with a sense of purpose and honesty, and while their execution results in a disjointed experience, it just feels right at the same time. Lifes have created something that’s a complete mess, but to bring it together in any other way robs it of its identity.
The album ends with a heart-wrenching playback of a voicemail with a sobbing teenager1 calling her2 parents3 to talk about how she doesn’t understand the point behind bullying. She laments the experience wherein shitty people take the most benign characteristics of others and twist them into abnormalities that “must be wrong” or “deserve to be ridiculed” when they’re just different. And the very last line is, “It takes time, I guess. It’s hard, but, it’ll probably get better one day.” It took every last fiber of my being not to break down right then and there. I may not have scored this album highly, but make no mistake that it tugs hard on my heartstrings. Treading Water is different. It’s messy and weird and not always great to listen to, but it hits you right in the feels and there is nothing wrong with any of that.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Labelseseses: Triple Eye Industries | Middleman Records | Knochen Tapes | Here and Now! Records
Websites: lifes.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/lifes414
Releases Worldwide: June 28th, 2019