Talk about a Covid-19 record.
Think back, way back, to November 2020, that first year of the pandemic, when everything was fingering a fresh wound and was unknown and frightening — months filled with many unsure situations as we collectively hunkered down for long winters of hibernation and hiding. Then, there’s Stomatopod.
In that same November, the Chicago three-piece booked studio time a few months ahead with engineer extraordinaire Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. And they got to work. As their press materials describe it, “They cobbled together a low-volume drum kit and some tiny amps and set up shop on drummer Elliot Dicks’ semi-enclosed back porch — trying to be both safe and respectful of the neighbors. With windows open despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside, they donned heavy winter coats and facemasks and got to work writing and honing the six songs that make up their new LP … Ironically, when they set up in Studio A, it was the first time they’d played their new songs at full-volume.”
The resulting LP, Competing with Hindsight, the band’s third, is a true zenith, an explosive tour-de-force that is informed by the ugliness and social discord of the Covid-19 era – but always manages to find the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It is, as the band is quick to note, “not a record about living through a global pandemic.” But, like many artists faced with the obstacles Covid-19 presented, Stomatopod saw the cards they were being dealt and played them to great effect – the new LP, while not being easily characterized or pigeon-holed, rollicks and rejoices in the refrains of noise-rock and post-hardcore, yes. But it also flashes moments of real honey-tuned melodicism, harkening obvious comparisons to Hüsker Dü and even Naked Raygun in their most accessible form.
One of the Competing with Hindsight’s finest moments is three songs in: the catchy-as-all-get-out “Like the Breeze.” The tune starts with a tight-tight-tightly wound bass-and-drums lurch, before frontman John Huston enters with an eruption of dirgy blues-rock, complete, if our ears are to be believed, with a bottleneck slide splintering the neck of his electric guitar. There are Big-Muff choruses in the song that would do Mudhoney proud, but the listener keeps getting drawn back, transfixed even, by that walking bass-and-drum line, as Huston, with bassist/vocalist Sharon Maloy offering harmony, sings, “We found the landmines/ We broke the glass/ We brought the rolling thunder/ We missed the punchline/ Forgot to laugh/ So goes the same old story.” Epic stuff – and we don’t know if we’ve heard a slide worked into a post-hardcore song this well since the Jesus Lizard’s “Nub.”
The rest of the record holds up to the bar “Like the Breeze” sets. “Longer Division” is a real bitter pill, with Fugazi-like attention to texture and dynamics. Again, Maloy and Dicks hold down the bottom end and hold together the song as Huston pops in and out of frame before carefully launching into his hooks of a chorus. “Be The Hog!”, the energetic album-opener, takes that form a step further, offering grungy, off-kilter guitar asides, which Albini wisely punctuates with great left/right speaker separation. Then, there are these little bridges: Huston blurting out “And you just do what they tell you to,” before a great stop-and-tackle and, then, again – the bombastic chorus sweeping away listeners. Earworms, indeed.
The mini-LP (the thing only runs six songs) closes with “Variatrix,” perhaps its most vibrant number. Here, Huston’s guitar upstrokes fill in the air between Maloy’s perky, percolating bass but the thing that will make your jaw drop to the goddamned ground is a pitch-perfect “awwww” from Maloy and Dicks over Huston’s narration, as the band shifts into the chorus sweep. They just nail it so hard you wish it would stretch for a half-dozen or so more measures. The song, in its closing minutes, drops down to single guitar notes from Huston, who lets them trickle out before the whole band comes storming in, in full meltdown mode. If nothing else, it leaves you wishing there were songs after “Variatrix.” And isn’t that the measure of a great record – the songs ending and the listener craving more? Stomatopod shouldn’t be grappling with hindsight; the Covid-19 era is not kind to those who look back to years past and “remember when.” They should keep their eyes locked on their future. We all can hope it stays this bright. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Feb. 7, 2022