Six Finger Satellite CD reviewed by Nick Blakey

Music Reviews
Six Finger Satellite CD reviewed by Nick Blakey
Mar 6, 2009, 19:28

Six Finger Satellite - Half Control


There are certain times in rock and roll when pretty awesome things happen with band configurations. A certain combination of players is achieved, either deliberately or by accident, and the results can be pretty mystifying. The flipside of this equation is, of course, all too often the line-ups don't last very long, either because the combination of forces is just too great, or other outside factors contribute to cracking the core within. Furthermore, there is often very little record achieved of the moment, sadly sometimes none at all.

One example of this is the brief 1966 line-up of The Yardbirds that included both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on guitars of which we have exactly one 45 and some glorious footage from TV broadcasts as well as Blow Up. Another is the late-1970 to mid-1971 line-up of The Stooges with both Ron Asheton and James Williamson on guitars; the only audio remains from this existence is a show in St. Louis that is one of the worst recorded bootlegs known to man. A case can also be made for the all too brief Black Flag line-up of Rollins/Ginn/Cadena/Dukowski/Biscuits, which thankfully cut a set of demos for My War in 1983 (and was also unofficially captured on some live recordings by a few insightful souls) before only two members survived the subsequent tour to make the actual album.

Thankfully, Six Finger Satellite's Half Control captures such a point of time in crystal clear studio sound.

From early 2000 until mid 2001, Six Finger Satellite took a startling departure from the jittery disco and white soul of their previous albums with John MacLean on guitar and James Apt on bass, and plunged headlong into a more abrasive, sideways sturm-und-drang boogie with then-Landed members Joel Kayak and Sean Greenlea replacing MacLean and Apt respectively (albeit a few other line-up changes in between MacLean's departure in 1998 and Apt's in the winter of 1999-2000). Out went the fascist groove thang, in went the beats coordinated to punching fists, kicking feet, and heads repeatedly smashed against walls (and ironically enough this line-up would often close its sets with a cover of Black Flag's "Gimme Gimme Gimme"). Though not quite the slash and burn of their past efforts, 6FS had done this before: in the time between their debut EP, Weapon, and the fraternal twin LP releases of The Pigeon Is The Most Popular Bird, the band evolved from a kind of heavy metal grunge into a truly weird mutation of danceable electro-rock. Following that and shedding a few members and gaining a new one in the process, the unleashing of the mighty Severe Exposure showed the band had sharpened their edges and polished up their platform shoes even further, and were truly the funkiest bunch of wiseacres who could make you move, groove, think, and laugh.

Clocking in at under 30 minutes, Half Control isn't quite a Reign In Blood for the 21st Century, but it certainly kicks you in the face while screaming in your ear, although you'll be less likely to put your hands up in defense than to flash devil horns. The barn burning opener—"Thrown Out"—erupts like an inferno and doesn't let up for its entire 1:56 duration. J. Ryan's vocal is one part Boyd Rice, another part Hugh Cornwell, and yet another part Blixa Bargeld, with all parts = fury: "THROWN OUT! THROWN OUT! THROWN OUT! ON YOUR FACE!" A muscular bitch slap performed with brass knuckles, Kayak's razorblade guitar slashes and Rick Pelletier's near impossible propelling feats on the drums push the song to physical extremes. It kicks your ass, but you keep asking for more, which it happily gives you.

Between "Herpe [sic] Give Me Strength," a bucking of the flaccid sounds just then coming into vogue out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (a place where several former 6FS associates and not to mention John nee Juan MacLean found broader acceptance than they did in Providence) that results in a fierce booty shake of pain, and "A Tighter Passage," a spastic knee-jerk of a tune that breaks it all down just to start it up again over the course of each and every measure. Ryan screams and yells in his commanding and most uncompromising James Brown-meets-Lee Emery-in-Arto Lindsay's-front-parlor vocals concluding with a seemingly compromised yet positive "THAT'S ALL RIGHT!"

Between these songs lie the two most important tracks on the album: "Half Control" and "Artificial Light." Building on the paths partially explored on the band's previous album Law of Ruins, 6FS tries to push through the walls of the rock and roll format and catch the point at which D.A.F. and Albert Ayler meet and are bisected by Negative Approach and The Boredoms via repetition, drive, and groove. Taking a cue from "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer (and Giorgio Moroder), both songs are physical points along the path of infinity, offering up the possibility of never releasing their thrust of intentions while only gathering with intensity. The result is to plough through with utmost intent, never letting up until something snaps, breaks, or is broken through as if the band were trying to break free of the limits set by its previous incarnations. Akin to perhaps Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, or Bob Dylan strapping on an electric guitar at Newport, 6FS's attempts to do the same thing in song will certainly holds one's attention and fascination the entire length of time that the music is actually playing.

They continue this though to a much lesser extreme on "Live Legs" and the slyly titled "Long Time No C" (6FS never did lose their sense of humor). As punishing as anything off of Black Sabbath's Sabotage, the ascending "Live Legs" seems to be Ryan's declaration that he's had enough of the place he's in and is ready for a change: "To split the scene/Down the middle find a seam/Split it open wide/To see what's there inside/now's the time to leave this place/'cause I've got live legs/to carry this weight" Pelletier shows no mercy on his drums using what sounds like shotguns for sticks. "Long Tim No C" gallops around a waxing and waning rhythm driven by pushy elastic bass playing from Greenlea that stretches the boundaries of the song while Ryan declares "'Cause we do it while we can/Do it 'cause we can/Did it 'cause I could." A sudden breakdown then occurs and continued shouts of "LONG TIME! NO C! LONG TIME! NO C!" dissipates the song and ultimately reduces it to rubble.

Wrapping it all up is the darkly odd "Bored Oracle." Much like the black conclusions reached on their two previous albums (Paranormalized's "The Great Depression" and "Hertz So Good " on Law of Ruins), Ryan's continued frenzied ranting through the song's slower, ominous, foreboding waves of sound seem to end in nothing but indecisions and unanswered questions. Ryan's slowly coming unhinged vocal is the same one we heard previously on "Slave Traitor" from Paranormalized: little confidence, lots of fear, and much uncertainty. Adding to the uncomfortable feeling is the recording quality—this is an in concert recording with a studio vocal covering up the live one, though it can be heard in a slightly ghostly manner. If it is possible to feel claustrophobic within wide open ambience, this recording certainly captures that.

While Half Control is perhaps not the most groundbreaking Six Finger Satellite record or even the most cohesive, it nonetheless documents an important piece of the band's history and rocks the fuck out to boot. Following the recording of this album and some shows in the summer of 2001, 6FS went on indefinite hiatus. They reconvened last year, however, with another new line-up (Ryan and Pelletier remain, though Pelletier has switched to guitar). What the album from this line-up will sound like is anyone's guess, but one can rest assured it will be anything but a repeat of previous excursions. It is, as J. Ryan once pointed out, just rock music after all. [Load]

-Nick Blakey


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