Dark days, indeed

Pub date March 19, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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It used to be that staying up late was a real form of rebellion. An easy test of parental authority for kids, the act takes on an almost anti-capitalist character for young adults. After all, so-called nightlife doesn’t even begin until the 9-to-5 business day has locked its doors. Yet Capital has caught on, and it’s hard not to see the slippery transition from Happy Hour to late-night diner as just another set of cogs on the gear. Still, New York City has held true to its insomniac reputation, issuing the challenge to antisocial misfits to stay up later than a city that never sleeps. Which is why we must thank Religious Knives for giving us a look at what may be the last hour for the lost, wild, and wicked: dawn. Their new album, It’s After Dark (Troubleman), seethes with the deep fear of bleary-eyed wanderers, psychotic with sleep dep’, staring straight into the morning sun.

Religious Knives might almost be considered a sobering up — or hanging over — of guitar player Mike Bernstein and key coaxer Maya Miller’s previous band, Double Leopards. While Religious Knives originally transmitted some of the sonic wall of murk that its earlier incarnation was renowned for, the addition of Mouthus drummer Nate Nelson plunges the band headlong into its current rock sound. Nelson’s drumming has always suggested an equatorial influence, but with the dense shit-storm haze of his other project removed, his brilliant, if grooveless, polyrhythms are finally allowed to cut through. Though the signature Big Apple, bad-vibes drone still rears its head on much of Religious Knives’ diverse discography, the outfit’s atonal crooning, their scrapes and bangs of questionable origin, and their flea-market-Casio runs have all the makings of a neoclassic punk band.

On It’s After Dark, Religious Knives hovers between two sonic paradigms: there’s a classic leather-jacket dirge-punk that culls from Joy Division, Suicide, and even the Cramps, in addition to a basement-apartment dub sound that suggests a production credit split between Lee Perry and some suburban teen hooked on Wolf Eyes. These divergent tendencies are most apparent on the full-length’s first two tracks, but by the time a Bad Seeds-esque "The Sun" rolls around, one senses a whole genre being invented. In many ways the merging of the dark dub of yore and noise music of today is no stranger than the similar convergence that brought us dubstep.

If vibe has much to do with why people listen to music today, then people may enjoy a band that sounds as New York City as Jean Michel Basquiat wandering the Lower East Side ruins. The dense creep of Religious Knives makes at least a few parts of Brooklyn seem satisfyingly seedy.


Wed/19, 9:30 p.m., $6

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1131 Polk, SF