Issue #35: In Love With Jetts by Antioch Arrow
September 26, 2016
Released In 1994
Released By Gravity Records
It would not be an exaggeration to say that my discovery of Antioch Arrow, back at the tail end of their short-lived existence in the early ’90s, blew a hole in my entire musical worldview. To be fair, it wasn’t just them — they came to me as part of a larger scene, primarily based in San Diego and coalescing around the tiny DIY label Gravity Records. The first thing I heard about Antioch Arrow was that they featured the former drummer of Heroin on vocals. I’d loved Heroin, and been really bummed when they split up after two EPs and one mini-LP, so of course, I had to seek out any new work from the band’s former members. (This goal also led me to Second Story Window and Clikatat Ikatowi, both excellent in their own right.)
By the time I started encountering Antioch Arrow’s music in the world, they already had a split EP and two full-lengths available. I couldn’t find them for sale, but friends of mine had copies, and I eagerly dubbed them. I was totally flummoxed when I realized, upon copying both of the band’s LPs onto a cassette, that both together had only filled up half of one side of a 90 minute tape. That meant that the two albums added up to no more than 25 minutes, total. How could that be possible?
One of the factors making these albums seem much longer than they were was that so much was going on in Antioch Arrow’s music. Indeed, while their self-titled debut* was relatively straightforward, In Love With Jetts came across as a blurry, out-of-control mess. Both records were extremely difficult for me to parse at first; I can remember putting on that cassette and finding my eyes glazing over within the first minute or so of the music starting. The music at first had the effect of a churning sea, crashing against the shore in a particularly inhospitable location. Some of the songs contained sections that jumped out at me upon first listen, but those portions felt more like jagged rocks projecting above the surface of a raging, chaotic ocean. I had no idea what the fuck was going on. And I couldn’t help but love it. I was 18 or so at the time, living through my abortive two-year attempt at college, a time that I remember being marked by more emotional instability than any other era of my life. Music that seemed under control made sense to me, and some of it definitely resonated, but what I was really looking for was music that reflected the chaotic, overclocked mess within my brain. When I heard Antioch Arrow, I heard something that sounded like I felt. Its lunacy had the counter-intuitive result of helping to appease mine.
After listening to In Love With Jetts obsessively for weeks, it started to make sense to me. This might just have been because I had the songs memorized. Being able to remember that a totally unexpected transition was about to occur — as happens at least once or twice per song — helped me to start understanding the nature of those transitions, and even to see the logic within them. It was really tough to imagine how the musicians learned those transitions well enough to perform them without slipping out of sync and derailing the entire song. Years later, though, I read an article in Your Flesh magazine which mentioned that bassist Mack Mann had composed the album’s nine songs as sheet music. I’m not sure whether I believe this — seriously, all five members of this barely-post-teenage punk band knew how to read sheet music? — but it is definitely plausible in light of the complexities on display here.
For an example, let’s take “Space Age,” the final song on the 45-RPM 12 inch LP’s first side. It begins with a synthesizer playing a series of melodramatic chords through an incredibly cheesy false reverb effect. This album features quite a few interjections from this cheesy synth, which does nothing to detract from the music’s overall power and velocity. If anything, it just makes the whole thing that much weirder — to hear a few random notes from a synth that sounds like it got pulled out of a thrift-store dumpster only adds to the overall chaos on display here. At the same time, it manages to add the most coherent melodic elements to be found, in pretty much the only way that melody could be added without even slightly softening the vicious hardcore riffing it lies atop.
Anyway, “Space Age.” After the unaccompanied synth chords end, drummer Ron Avila and guitarist Andy Ward begin playing a midtempo riff. The drum part is constructed mainly of rumbling toms, while the guitar dances through a disjointed sequence of jagged chords which don’t seem to be on any particular scale but still have a strange, dissonant harmony. Overtop of this brief introduction, singer Aaron Montaigne querulously bleats some nonsensical lyrics in a tone that sounds almost like Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys attempting to replace Peter Murphy in Bauhaus. Montaigne’s decision to forgo the typical throaty screams of the early ’90s hardcore scene in favor of this strangely melodic yet often atonal blurting vocal approach forever set Antioch Arrow apart from their contemporaries, and helped create room within their sound for a multitude of cross-genre influences, even as it totally weirded out tons of the era’s hardcore kids.
We’re 16 seconds into this 88-second track. So what next? Well, for starters, Mann and guitarist Jeff Winterberg join in at this point, and as they do, Avila launches into a loose, jazzy version of the standard one-two/one-two fast hardcore beat. The guitarists and bassist begin repeating a three-chord riff that seems to proceed at exactly half the speed of the barreling drumbeat, while Montaigne’s double-time vocal teams up with Avila’s pounding to leave the overall impression here of a very high velocity. Moments like this abound on this album — moments in which the music exists on several different layers at once, creating one impression upon first listen and several completely different ones as the listener dives further in.
Indeed, returning this album to heavy rotation for the first time in several years in order to write this piece has caused it to reveal quite a few sides of itself that I’d never noticed before. For years, I’d thought that the record contained no moments in which the songs returned to earlier verses or choruses; that every song was made up of a random sequence of half-a-dozen or so parts, all of which the band blasted through twice or four times, transitioned out of, and never returned to. This isn’t actually the case, though, and I’m only now realizing it.
Where were we in “Space Age,” though? The transition out of that first full-band riff, the speedy hardcore “verse,” runs into what I’ll go ahead and call a “pre-chorus.” But really, it’s that same introductory riff, now repeated at a completely different speed that isn’t double-speed so much as time-and-a-half speed. The transition into this riff is totally jarring, wrong-footing any listeners who might have understood the verse well enough to nod along by being in a completely different timing. The same thing happens as the song transfers into its catchiest riff, which I’ll call the “chorus” even though it doesn’t return. The band slides into this riff like it’s somehow skidding uphill, and this totally chaotic move is immediately reversed by a chorus that jumps out at you even on first listen. What makes this part sound so indelible, what gives it a strangely anthemic quality, is the way the guitars and bass integrate together. They mix high, clanging octave chords with a quieter yet more deeply grounded major-chord progression that unites the entire band into one triumphant, powerful force.
Eventually a cheesy synth melody that wouldn’t be out of place on a Get Up Kids record (though it exists in a completely different context here) comes along to further augment the chorus, only to disappear abruptly as the band returns to the intro/pre-chorus riff once again (the post-chorus?). The song ends with another verse, though it took me years to recognize the returning riff, because Montaigne is singing the lyrics to the chorus overtop of it. The completely different vocal pattern he uses thereby makes it sound like the band is playing an entirely new riff.
My apologies for diving so deeply into the construction of a song that you probably could have played seven times while you read those paragraphs. However, one of the reasons In Love With Jetts has retained its importance in my mind is that it contains so many layers. Who knew that a hardcore punk record that blows by you in less than a quarter of an hour could rely so heavily on free-jazz looseness, complex melodic and harmonic constructions, and a melodramatic gothic atmosphere that shifts abruptly between cheesiness and terror? If you’ve only listened to In Love With Jetts three or four times, you might have no idea about any of this. It might even sound like the totally fucked-up mess I’ve expended hundreds of words telling you it’s not. But continuing to delve into it will yield brilliant, unexpected rewards. You just have to look deeply enough.
*–this idea that Antioch Arrow’s first LP is called The Lady Is A Cat only came along years after the band broke up. The phrase is nowhere to be found on the original album art. But then again, Antioch Arrow’s tendency to update track listings, covers, and lyric sheets without acknowledgement nor explanation is a motif running throughout the band’s brief career. After all, In Love With Jetts‘ original cover (which looked completely different than the reissue and is almost impossible to find pictured anywhere online) only listed eight songs on the album, with some song titles rendered completely differently than the way they’re known today. Most memorably, “Anitoch Gold (For You)” was listed as “Clem Burk” [sic], a misspelled Blondie homage that, one assumes, the band later thought better of.
Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground
Antioch Arrow live, with the crowd right on top of the musical carnage and the band pushing the boundaries of hardcore music.
When it comes to the noisier genres of music, like punk, metal, industrial, no wave, et cetera, I can generally keep an open mind. However, I don’t often connect with this music on any level other than a respectful acknowledgement of it’s artistic value. I’ve dabbled in some heavier music, typically with a more electronic bent (like industrial noise musician Pharmakon), so listening to Antioch Arrows’ In Love With Jetts was still something of a culture shock. I don’t know much of anything about punk or its history, so what I say here is all merely conjecture — but hey it’s 2016 and Donald Trump is a presidential candidate so informed opinions don’t really mean much anymore, do they? I enjoyed some aspects of the album, first and foremost the hurricane of percussion that punctuates most of the songs with an infectious manic energy. Even though I wasn’t sure if I totally liked what I was hearing, the drums definitely had me jamming out for a lot of it. I also liked the seeming rejection of typical studio recording standards. Songs would start and stop with no warning, there’d be stretches of silence, sounds that were pretty obviously not a part of the music. It went beyond lo-fi into something more deliberate and kind of fun. Even if hardcore music isn’t your thing, this album has a vitality that’s hard to ignore. And at roughly fourteen minutes long, it can’t hurt to give it a spin.
David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer
Well, this is quite a different turn we’ve taken from Keaton Henson last week, isn’t it? I think the one thing I love the most about writing for OYR is the fact that each and every one of us can delve deep into almost any genre and pluck out a gem. I personally don’t often go swim in the metal/post-hardcore pool too often, mostly because it’s scary and that guy that yells constantly is always there. But I’ll never outright dismiss any music, and whilst Antioch Arrow isn’t my usual cup of tea, there’s something to occasionally going for a nice chai to mix things up. In Love With Jetts total run time is less than a typical Meat Loaf song, so there’s no excuse for not giving it a try. Each track is short and sweet, but it works in its favour. Antioch Arrow doesn’t waste a single second as they unleash everything they have to offer with a ferocious pulsating sound. Weirdly enough, their sound and musical structure strongly reminded me of Test Icicles, which of course was the first band of Dev Hynes (Issue #9). A quick google search later and I found an interview with Rory Attwell, who formed Test Icicles, where he lists Antioch Arrow as an influence. So it seems I’ve started a six degrees of separation game between OYR issues. Mostly it proves that In Love With Jetts is an influential record, a fast-paced romp that exceeds expectation.
James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist
This is exactly the kind of stuff I was looking for in college when i was getting into Minor Threat and Descendents and just wanted it really hard and fast and loud and angry. I think the thing that I like most about this album is the words and phrases that rise to the surface of intelligibility. Like “Saltwater taffy is giving love” and “Gag Me with a spoon” in “Anitoch Gold (For You)” and “She was found under her house just like a gummy worm” from “The Puppy Love.” They hint at a meaning and characters and storyline that eludes understanding, even when looking up the lyrics (a notoriously unreliable task). And that really entertains me (and frustrates me, but in, like, a good way?) because it means that, as you sit with the album, you can find yourself singing along, but still not really know what you’re singing about. Kind of like if you memorized an ee cummings poem. Reciting it, you might sound like a lunatic. You might feel like a lunatic, but the shape of the words in your mouth would be familiar and comforting. In the spirit of the album, I’m not going to make this blurb very long, but I will say in closing that I am very much looking forward to having this in the old Shuffle Songs pool. It’s going to fun hearing this follow and precede songs from other, gentler genres. Off the top of my head, I think it would be fun to hear “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” immediately follow “Suspicious Uzi.” And with that pairing, I may have just started my next mix CD.
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
Even in a simple picture, the band comes off as antagonizing and ruthless, with a striking pose as authoritative as any of the punk legends before them.
Language, I explain to my students, is a faulty vehicle to try and get you to see what I see from these eyes, this heart, this mind. Every lesson we do, from clarity to punctuation to logical fallacies, works to refine that vehicle for concise precision as best as the writer can so that the reader comes close to understanding exactly what the writer is expressing. This week, playing In Love With Jetts over and over, as the short album allows, I found myself at a loss; because I am not really familiar with this genre at all, I was not sure how to approach it. Listening, thinking about time signatures and punk and anger and prog rock, I felt this music, enjoyed it, but when it came time to write my mouth was empty, my hands poised over the keyboard, ready to move, but still. I can call a guitar drippy or muddy, talk about surgical drums and thin vocals or whatever, but being new to the genre left me worrying I would sound naïve or foolish as I tried to explain this music for all our readers… but when, I thought, have I ever been worried about looking silly? In my naïve, foolish style, then, let me say: I like this album. Chaotic, choppy and loud, the album never seems unfinished or rough, but rather put together without having to have much planning. Spontaneous, with effective bits of quieter noise clanging in a few spots. Impassioned, but never seeming so heavy or serious. Not lazy, yet straightforward, the upfront, raw honesty and emotion comes through with no pretention. In my naïve, foolish way, I like this album as an introduction to a sound I have known about and heard, but not really thought about as much as writing about music demands.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Throw a brick in a washing machine. Some just like to watch the world burn. Erect a shrine to chaoticism and restlessness. A dog barks incessantly through a fence.
Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz
Spotify truly is the great music equalizer. When I first got into hardcore in the late ’90s, a lot of the earlier emo stuff like Antioch Arrow and Angel Hair had come and gone, so you mostly listened to it on dubbed cassettes your much-cooler friends (thanks Drew!) kindly made you from their LPs. Some things were released on CD (I saw Heroin’s discography on CD at Goodwill recently), but they were almost as scarce as the vinyl, which had teeny tiny press runs. I frequented the basement of Plan 9 well before vinyl’s “revival,” which is how I scored the first two Antioch Arrow LPs for a song. I was strangely surprised that Antioch Arrow was on Spotify, as they were a part of an obscure little movement over twenty years ago, and their music still feels too precious to be online. But the availability is awesome, because it gives people the chance to hear In Love With Jetts without having to dig through used bins. If you haven’t heard a lot of early ’90s (San Diego/Gravity Records-style) emo, it follows a bit of a formula: catchy guitar intro part + 1-2 minutes of screaming + a breakdown in the middle + quick ending. What sets Antioch Arrow apart is that they are really, really good at it. Aaron Montaigne’s voice almost sounds lazy, as he talk-sings, moans and quivers nonsensical lyrics such as “the fish had a funny way of 33 below” without ever grating. Guitars and drums punctuate Montaigne’s singing, so the songs always feel like they’re going somewhere. Also, “Anitoch Gold (For You)” is just a great fucking song, no matter what the genre. I don’t know if this week’s issue will create new listeners for this excellent record (reissued with their previous LP, Lady Is A Cat, which is my favorite), but I hope it causes other nerds like myself to dig through our collections and discover old gems.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
Backs turned, locking into the songs, each far more complex and methodical than most would care to admit.
Nine songs in under twenty minutes might seem extreme, but Antioch Arrow’s In Love With Jetts is practically a Yes album compared to Naked City’s Torture Garden. If you took the first nine songs off that classic 1990 compilation of “grindcore” classics by John Zorn, Yamatsuka Eye, & friends, you would have a tidy six and a half minutes of music. Torture Garden is a good reference point for this dense, complex blast of the genre I prefer to call “artcore,” if I have to call it anything. For all I know, Antioch Arrow never even heard of Naked City, but they follow some of its principles very convincingly. Taking some of the power and brevity of hardcore (i.e. The Necros six song EP, 1981), while layering in arty sounds from the likes of Pere Ubu and Yoko Ono (check out the ululations on “Chaos Vs. Cosmos“), this sound demands active listening as you work to tease out details and determine structures. Come to think of it, I’m glad I mentioned Yes because this is as virtuosic a form as prog rock, requiring musicians to stop, start, and change tempos, textures, and rhythms many times per song with complete assurance. The production is also supremely well-considered, from the banal “We’re rolling” at the start of the album to the buried electronics throughout. I would like to think that if I had used the Internet for anything other than banking in 1994, I would have somehow become aware of this short-lived streaking comet of a band. So thanks, Drew, for getting me caught up. Now it’s your turn.
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
If you’ve been reading OYR you might expect me to love this record. While In Love With Jetts is a great example of mid 90s hardcore, I still mostly prefer the original harDCore and Revolution Summer style bands. I did, however, really enjoy Aaron Montaigne‘s unique vocal style (some call him as one of the grandfathers of screamo), but found the abrupt song endings annoying. Antioch Arrow were a very important band during the ’90s, but not so much for the rest of us checking in twenty years later. I’m interested to hear from the writers who haven’t spent a lot of time listening to punk rock, perhaps I’m just oversaturated.
PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man
Venturing far past the source material, I’d like to use a scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus to talk about this record, with some assistance from The Germs later on. In the film, which resonates more with me given my musical obsession and my father’s deafness, there’s an odd, but charming scene where the titular character describes his first time hearing John Coltrane after it was recommended. “I hated it,” he remembers. “I mean, I really hated it. I just didn’t get it. So I played it again. I played it again and I played it again, and then I just couldn’t stop playing it.” I come back to this thought often when it comes to examining music, and it was definitely the case for one my favorite records of all time: (GI) by The Germs. Here was a band deeply entrenched in punk rock mythology, but also one that had a clear impact. Without The Germs, the landscape of ’90s alt-rock would be vastly different for sure, and I don’t just mean because of Pat Smear. When I first put it on though, I mostly hated it, except for that guitar riff on “Richie Dagger’s Crime” and I knew that I just didn’t get it. So I listened again, and caught a few more hooks here and there in the music. So I listened again, and caught some really interesting lyrical ideas in the music. So I listened again, and began to see the talent in these rudimentary musicians. Eventually, like Mr. Holland himself, I just couldn’t stop playing it. In Love With Jetts strikes me as the same type of record, one that’s incredibly challenging at first, but ultimately endearing and rewarding. Don’t get me wrong though — it is a challenge to listen to, and one most OYR readers won’t want to attempt. It’s unruly, chaotic, and tumultuous with each song so fractured and fragmented that, if acquired in another age, might make you wonder if Limewire had only downloaded half the song. But all of this adds to the experience. The abrupt stops make each song feel like their own unique bungee jumps while the musical frenzy often blurs the time signature in a way that even the best bands couldn’t master. Chances are, you’re going to dislike this at first listen, but believe me, there’s something to be gained from going back and listening again. Be careful though — before you know it, you’ve spent a whole day listening to a record less than twenty minutes long, and you might just wonder if you’re a fan of screamo now.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Bolan’s Zip Gun by T. Rex
Chosen By Jeremy Shatan