Three Hundred (2007)
St. Louis, MO
54-40 or Fight Records
I was fortunate enough to catch The Conformists at a midnight show here in Chicago a few months back, part of their 'world tour' supporting the new record, Three Hundred, on 54-40. The band had been on my bands-to-check-out list for some time, cheaply defined in the margins as a 'spooky U.S. Maple'. I suppose an unfairly small snapshot of Three Hundred might fit that description, but the whole experience of a Conformist's live set is what really transformed my understanding of the band.
Aside from the opening to the sixth track, the album might give the impression of a band that is gravely bound to a morose set of artsy-creepy themes. It is 9 tracks packed with quiet, dark, 'minimalist' moments like the skeletal guitar dawdling and gentle tapping of the drumkit's frame on 'Tax Deduction', heavy-breathing, panting and slurping throughout, plenty of tinkering and noise-making, and a half minute of an amp's hum to open the album. But in the flesh The Conformists blend their unique musical ideas with sarcasm, dry humor, and a brand of bizarre showmanship that could be compared to The Jesus Lizard. They do make use of the vocalist as an instrument ala U.S. Maple, that is to say that the vocals aren't just melodies to sing over the instruments, but an assortment of nutso personalities assumed by the frontman. This is done nicely on record and in the live set is performed by a shirtless schizophrenic crawling through the crowd, grabbing limbs, mumbling nonsense, generally trying to freak people out.
As much as the band may or may not like to hear it, 300 is going to be called 'deconstructionist', which to me is a perfectly apt description. (For their own reasons U.S. Maple has taken issue with the term.) But however you want to say it, The Conformists have found a way to forge Trout Mask Replica's structural demolitions with the vigor of TJL's Goat and Liar records. If I worked at 54-40 I'd put a little sticker on the CD, "Deconstrutionist music you can mosh to!"
In addition to being excellent musicians all, guitar, drums and bass, the band seems pretty young too, as near as I can tell. This is only their second full-length, aside from that they have a 12" of noises, and a 7". So we're hoping there is a long future ahead of them.