One of the strangest things about entering middle age is that you are now old enough to see the cultural detritus of your formative years scooped up and reconfigured for new consumption. When younger people become enamored with the aesthetics of a prior decade and make new work in that vein, this can enliven the old with a contemporary spin, or it can be lifelessly derivative (see: re-thrash). So where on that spectrum does the 90’s pastiche of The Great Sabatini’s new album Goodbye Audio fall? Allow me to consult the gray streaks in my beard and the fading Live Throwing Copper tour t-shirt in my closet as I answer that question.
The unmistakable 90’s vibe starts with the cover art. That candy-colored grotesquery, like so much of the visual culture of the time, says “We’re just kids having fun. Ok, actually we’re just kids trying to reconcile the slick superficiality of the 80s with the societal rot we see just below the surface.” It continues right into first song “Still Life With Maggots,” where the opening chords come awfully close to imploring a certain Spoonman to come together with his hands. What follows throughout the album is sludgy doom a la Bullhead-era Melvins—certainly not a bad thing—mixed with hardcore and noise histrionics that are harder to trace to a direct source. I can hear Unsane in the vocal assault and overall attitude, but the bluesy grooves that add earthiness to their arch noise are nowhere to be found in Goodbye Audio. Instead, The Great Sabatini play with a detachment that’s every bit as glib as it is intellectual.
This extends to their song structures, which are at times literally detached. Several tracks feature two or three distinct parts with little or no connective tissue. Complicating matters, all four members share vocal duties, to uneven effect, making cohesion a challenge. Just like tossing a pile of sticks gets you a new pile of sticks rather than a tree, rearranging pieces of songs in Goodbye Audio would likely get you much the same album, with no more or less continuity. I can think of noise bands that would take this observation as a compliment, but I’m not sure The Great Sabatini is one of them. After all, they take great pains to create headbangable moments.
When it brings the chug and groove, Goodbye Audio is a hell of a lot of fun. “Still Life With Maggots” and mid-album highlight “You’re Gonna Die (Unsatisfied),” the two structurally tightest songs, pummel with sludgy guitars and punk rock venom. The latter features talk-singing and hardcore shouts that call to mind a really pissed off Cake. Like them, The Great Sabatini don’t seem to take themselves too seriously—they once released an EP titled Napoleon Sodomite—and this devil-may-care approach yields a couple eyebrow raising moments. The jaunty, hyper intro to “Strip Mall or: The Pursuit of Crappiness Parts 1-4” transitions (or doesn’t) into a Neanderthal stomp to create the album’s most jarring moment. More pleasing to the ears, in album closer “Hand of Unmaking” a rough violin melody plunked down in the middle of the song ends up working WAY better than it should.
Speaking of, this final song is a fitting microcosm of Goodbye Audio. At fourteen minutes, it’s the longest by far and feels like a four-minute throwaway track of someone mumbling as the band warms up, smashed against what would otherwise be the best song of the bunch. Through the final ten minutes, “Hand of Unmaking” strikes a near perfect balance between sludge, hardcore, doom, and laconic 90s alt-rock.
So where does all this pre-Y2K worship put Goodbye Audio on the innovative to derivative scale? I wouldn’t call The Great Sabatini derivative, as they pull equally from so many sources that they never ape any one sound. That said, everything here sounds to these ears squarely pre-millennial. So if you’re looking for new, yet familiar sounds to blast directly into your face, this just might be your puckish, belligerent slab of noise.